Published On: Wed, Mar 7th, 2018

Building a 33rd team out of free agents

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Free agency is scheduled to begin March 14, with the potential to swiftly and dramatically reshape the league picture.

Although the NFL hasn’t discussed expansion recently, looking at the available free agents from this year’s class suggests there is enough talent to create a 33rd team.

Here, we’ve tried to build a team consisting entirely of free agents, assuming no draft capital for 2018, a $177-million salary cap, and estimating what it would take to sign each of these players.

Could they beat the Cleveland Browns? You be the judge.

Quarterbacks


Case Keenum – 3 years, $60 million ($20M AAV)
Colin Kaepernick – 1 year, $2 million
Tyler Bray – 1 year, $750,000

Keenum is used to leading an underestimated passing game, he won’t cost as much as Kirk Cousins, and he’s still a better option than most free-agent crops provide in terms of quarterbacks.

It’s appalling that Kaepernick wasn’t able to land a contract for the 2017 season. The madness stops here. The NFL’s 33rd team includes the former 49er, as well as a cheap third-stringer in Bray.

Position total (2018): $22.75 million
Remaining cap space: $154.25 million

Running backs


Isaiah Crowell – 2 years, $7 million ($3.5M AAV)
Dion Lewis – 2 years, $6 million ($3M AAV)
Orleans Darkwa – 1 year, $1 million
Derrick Coleman (FB) – 1 year, $750,000

The power-running Crowell and the shift-receiver skills of Lewis present an above-average two-back punch. Crowell, 25, is at a prime age for taking and delivering punishment, while Lewis provides a solid change of pace and a major mismatch on third downs.

Darkwa is good-but-not-great in enough areas that he can be a reliable backup who contributes on special teams. And if Crowell is going to be a power runner, he’s going to need a good fullback in Coleman to help him out.

Position total (2018): $8.25 million
Remaining cap space: $146 million

Wide receivers


Sammy Watkins – 3 years, $30 million ($10M AAV)
Paul Richardson – 4 years, $24 million ($6M AAV)
John Brown – 1 year, $3.5 million
T.J. Jones – 1 year, $1 million
Justin Hunter – 1 year, $1 million

This may be the most talented positional group on the team: a starting quartet of high-risk, high-reward wide receivers oozing with potential. Watkins has been highly touted since high school and, at his best, represents one of the better values on the market. Richardson is a genuine downfield threat and Brown is quicker than almost every corner in the league when healthy. Speed, skill, and efficiency is the name of the game here.

Position total (2018): $21.5 million
Remaining cap space: $124.5 million

Tight ends


Trey Burton – 2 years, $10 million ($5M AAV)
Antonio Gates – 1 year, $2.5 million
Troy Niklas – 1 year, $750,000

Burton is still improving, and possesses all the athletic tools to be a starting tight end. Plus, who could resist his ability to throw touchdown passes on the grandest stage? Gates has enough left to make a difference in the red zone while sharing his wisdom with teammates. Niklas is more of a blocker than receiver; cheap, hard-working players are a necessity on this makeshift expansion team.

Position total (2018): $8.25 million
Remaining cap space: $116.25 million

Offensive tackles


Nate Solder – 2 years, $25 million ($12.5M AAV)
Greg Robinson – 1 year, $1.5 million
Chris Hairston – 2 years, $2 million ($1M AAV)
Eric Winston – 1 year, $1 million
Seantrel Henderson – 1 year, $750,000

Solder is the standout from an otherwise ragtag group as he looks to rejuvenate his career after a few injury-riddled seasons with the Patriots. Robinson and Henderson are both seeking redemption, while Hairston’s proven to be a capable, if unspectacular tackle who could get some playing time on an expansion team. Winston, the president of the NFLPA, is a solid starter who could be more valuable in the locker room than on the field.

Position total (2018): $16.75 million
Remaining cap space: $99.5 million

Guards


Jack Mewhort – 3 year, $21 million ($7M AAV)
Josh Sitton – 1 year, $5 million
Jahri Evans – 1 year, $1.5 million

On the interior offensive line, 26-year-old Mewhort will hopefully prove a worthy investment after struggling with some injuries in 2017. He could end up being as good a pickup as coveted guard Andrew Norwell at a fraction of the price. Former Pro Bowlers Sitton and Evans are getting up there in age, but can still squeeze out another year without becoming liabilities.

Position total (2018): $13.5 million
Remaining cap space: $86 million

Centers


John Sullivan – 1 year, $3 million
Russell Bodine – 3 years, $2.25 million ($750,000 AAV)

After investing in Solder and Mewhort, two of the top available offensive linemen, the team won’t chase Weston Richburg, the best center on the market. Instead, nine-year veteran Sullivan will lead the middle of the line as 25-year-old Bodine develops behind him.

Position total (2018): $3.75 million
Remaining cap space: $82.25 million

Defensive ends


Aaron Lynch – 2 years, $10 million ($5M AAV)
Julius Peppers – 1 year, $3 million
Barkevious Mingo – 1 year, $1.5 million
Charles Johnson – 1 year, $ 1 million

Carolina Panthers all-time sack leaders Peppers and Johnson can build a similar culture to that of Ron Rivera’s solid defense and help shape two pass-rushers who have struggled to reach their potential. Former first-rounder Mingo and the 24-year-old Lynch each have all the speed and athleticism a sack-getter could need, but haven’t been able to put it together at the pro level.

Position total (2018): $10.5 million
Remaining cap space: $71.75 million

Defensive tackles


Bennie Logan – 2 years, $12 million ($6 million AAV)
Beau Allen – 2 years, $4 million ($2 million AAV)
Dominique Easley – 1 year, $750,000
Ahtyba Rubin – 1 year, $750,000

Logan and Allen are former Eagles teammates. They’ll lead the interior defensive line with former first-round pick Easley, 26, who’s hoping to turn his career around, and 31-year-old nose tackle Rubin chipping in against the run.

Position total (2018): $9.5 million
Remaining cap space: $62.25 million

Linebackers


Tahir Whitehead – 3 years, $16.5 million ($5.5M AAV)
Preston Brown – 3 years, $12 million ($4M AAV)
NaVorro Bowman – 1 year, $2 million
Kelvin Sheppard – 1 year, $750,000

Whitehead and Brown are tackling machines who are still early in their careers and can play in the increasingly popular nickel sets. Some other teams can get by with lesser talent at linebacker, but this duo won’t cost too much and offers high upside playing together.

Bowman’s health is declining, but his experience and leadership remains valuable, and he’d only need to come in on run downs. Sheppard once recorded a 105-tackle season and can chip in on special teams.

Position total (2018): $12.25 million
Remaining cap space: $49.75 million

Cornerbacks


Malcolm Butler – 3 years, $39 million ($13M AAV)
Aaron Colvin – 2 years, $10 million ($5M AAV)
E.J. Gaines – 1 year, $4.25 million
Johnathan Joseph – 1 year, $2.5 million
Nevin Lawson – 1 year, $750,000

It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Butler returns to Pro Bowl form, and Colvin may be the ultimate steal here after being overlooked on an outstanding Jaguars defense in 2017. Gaines and Joseph are capable starters and would be great options in nickel and dime packages, while Lawson could restore some of his value on this expansion team.

Position total (2018): $25.5 million
Remaining cap space: $24.25 million

Safeties


Morgan Burnett – 3 years, $27 million ($9M AAV)
Eric Reid – 2 years, $12 million ($6M AAV)
Tyvon Branch – 1 year, $4 million
Corey Graham – 1 year, $1 million

Burnett has been a force on the back end for Green Bay since 2010, but approaching cap issues will allow him to hit the market. Reid can be a Pro Bowl-caliber player when he’s at the top of his game, and also brings above-average coverage skills. Branch and Graham have somehow flown under the radar for most of their careers and round out a group that is both disciplined and highly aggressive in pursuit of the ball.

Position total (2018): $20 million
Remaining cap space: $4.25 million

Kicking specialists


Shane Lechler – 1 year, $2 million
Cody Parkey – 1 year, $1 million

Parkey converted 91.3 percent of his field goals in 2017 and was one of the best and most affordable options available, making this a no-brainer. And any time you can get the best punter of his generation on the open market, you have to do it, right?

Position total (2018): $3 million
Remaining cap space: $1.25 million

View full rosters below poll.

Offense

Player Position 2017 team 2018 cap hit
Case Keenum QB Vikings $20M
Colin Kaepernick QB N/A $2M
Tyler Bray QB Chiefs $750K
Isaiah Crowell RB Browns $3.5M
Dion Lewis RB Patriots $3M
Orleans Darkwa RB Giants $1M
Derrick Coleman FB Falcons $750K
Sammy Watkins WR Rams $10M
Paul Richardson WR Seahawks $6M
John Brown WR Cardinals $3.5M
T.J. Jones WR Lions $1M
Justin Hunter WR Steelers $1M
Trey Burton TE Eagles $5M
Antonio Gates TE Chargers $2.5M
Troy Niklas TE Cardinals $750K
Nate Solder OT Patriots $12.5M
Greg Robinson OT Lions $1.5M
Chris Hairston OT Chargers $1M
Eric Winston OT Bengals $1M
Seantrel Henderson OT Bills $750K
Jack Mewhort G Colts $7M
Josh Sitton G Bears $5M
Jahri Evans G Packers $1.5M
John Sullivan C Rams $3M
Russell Bodine C Bengals $750K
Cody Parkey K Dolphins $1M
Shane Lechler P Texans $2M

Defense

Player Position 2017 team 2018 cap hit
Aaron Lynch DE 49ers $5M
Julius Peppers DE Panthers $3M
Barkevious Mingo DE Colts $1.5M
Charles Johnson DE Panthers $1M
Bennie Logan DT Chiefs $6M
Beau Allen DT Eagles $2M
Dominique Easley DT Rams $750K
Ahtyba Rubin DT Falcons $750K
Tahir Whitehead LB Lions $5.5M
Preston Brown LB Bills $4M
NaVorro Bowman LB Raiders $2M
Kelvin Sheppard LB Giants $750K
Malcolm Butler CB Patriots $13M
Aaron Colvin CB Jaguars $5M
E.J. Gaines CB Bills $4.25M
Johnathan Joseph CB Texans $2.5M
Nevin Lawson CB Lions $750K
Morgan Burnett S Packers $9M
Eric Reid S 49ers $6M
Tyvon Branch S Cardinals $4M
Corey Graham S Eagles $1M

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)



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