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The 5 O’Clock Club: Bleacher Report predicts the best value free agents at each position

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

I’m so excited

Everyone gets excited about a player like Saquon Barkley, but the fact is that he isn’t likely to be on the board by the time the 5th pick comes around on draft day.

Similarly, free agency gets teams dreaming of scoring a big free agent signing. Several fan bases are whipping themselves into a frenzy about Kirk Cousins, and the championships he will help secure for their franchises. Others drool at the prospect of adding Le’Veon Bell, Andrew Norwell or Jarvis Landry.

The stark reality of the salary cap

But the reality is, teams have to break the bank to bring in the top free agents.

Recently, Bleacher Report tried to shift the focus by looking — not at the highest ranked free agents at each position — but at the best bargains in 2018 free agency.

Here’s what they had to say:

Quarterback - Josh McCown

Teams are so desperate for competent quarterbacks that they’re willing to give Mike Glennon $18.5 million in guaranteed money.

McCown, meanwhile, didn’t care what you had to say about his age or New York’s roster in 2017. He recorded a career-high 18 touchdown passes with only nine interceptions, all while averaging a solid 7.4 yards per attempt and surprisingly leading the talent-starved Jets to five wins.

He’s still injury-prone, which is expected at his age. And he can make the odd maddening late-game decision. But overall, he isn’t just some veteran arm. He’s an aging and cheap option to give a short-term deal (almost definitely one year) and would give his team a chance to win every week

Projected contract (average annual value): $8 million

Running Back: Jerick McKinnon

McKinnon filled in nicely for Dalvin Cook, who tore his ACL in Week 4, and recorded 991 yards from scrimmage—easily a career single-season high (his previous high was 794 yards in 2016). Much of that yardage came as a pass-catcher. McKinnon showed his skill in that area and his comfort in space with 51 receptions for 421 yards.

He’s a multidimensional weapon and potentially rising. However, his price in free agency should be low because McKinnon doesn’t have an established history of production. He’s averaged fewer than four yards per carry in each of the past two seasons, and 2017 was his first year with 800-plus yards from scrimmage.

Projected contract (average annual value): $4.5 million

Wide Receiver: Jordan Matthews

In the not-so-distant past, Matthews was a rising slot receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. The 2014 second-round pick finished just three yards shy of 1,000 yards during his second NFL season. He also scored 16 touchdowns over his first two years at the next level.

But Matthews struggled somewhat in 2016, which can partly be blamed on the inconsistency of the Eagles offense (at best) while quarterback Carson Wentz went through his rookie growing pains. However, even in a year of regression, Matthews finished with a solid 804 receiving yards.

[In 2017] he missed six games with knee and ankle injuries that required offseason surgery.

Matthews is still young at 25 years old and has demonstrated he can find the end zone often and be a high-volume receiver when used in the right role.

Projected contract (average annual value): $5 million

Tight End: Tyler Eifert

Hoping the tight end can stay healthy hasn’t ended well for a while. He hasn’t played a full 16-game season since he entered the league in 2013, and he has missed 41 of a possible 80 regular-season games. Worse, Eifert has been on the field for just 10 games since the beginning of the 2016 campaign.

Over that two-year stretch, he’s needed two back surgeries. That’s beyond a red flag—being carved up twice often leads to a white flag.

If Eifert were in his early 30s, his career might be winding toward an unfortunate injury-induced conclusion. He’ll only be 27 years old when free agency begins, however, which means it’s much easier for a team in need of a tight end to talk itself into Eifert, especially since he might be limited to a one-year deal while trying to re-establish his value.

Projected contract (average annual value): $3 million

Offensive Tackle: Andre Smith

The 31-year-old’s pass-blocking ability has declined in recent seasons. In 2017, Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 48.0, which ranked a lowly 62nd among tackles.

Smith still had his moments as a pass-blocker, however, including in a Week 10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. He allowed only one pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton’s 36 dropbacks, according to the PFF Analysis Team. That came against the league’s fifth-ranked pass rush.

He’s much better when asked to plow forward as a run-blocker.

Projected contract (average annual value): $1.5 million

Guard: Alex Boone

Alex Boone, who spent 2017 with the Arizona Cardinals, has been a steady presence as an interior blocker. He’s missed only eight games over the past seven seasons, and Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 70-plus each year between 2011 and 2016.

He’s especially effective on passing downs and posted a 97.7 pass-blocking efficiency (a metric that measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis) in 2016 for the Minnesota Vikings, according to Michael Manning of Pro Football Focus. However, during the same season, he struggled as a run-blocker, which contributed to the Vikings’ last-place finish in 15-plus-yard runs, per Pro Football Focus’ Eric Eager.

Boone played under a contract that paid him a mere $900,000 in 2017. In May, he’ll turn 31 years old—an age that should lower his value enough for a team wanting to affordably plug an offensive line hole.

Projected contract (average annual value): $1 million

Center: John Sullivan

John Sullivan was arguably the NFL’s best center not long ago.

He was a key cog in a Minnesota Vikings offensive line that opened gaping holes for running back Adrian Peterson’s 2,097-yard rushing season in 2012.

Injuries set in, as a back issue kept him out for all of 2015. Then he was a depth piece for the Washington Redskins in 2016 and made only one start. He rebounded strongly for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 as a key piece in their offensive line turnaround and cleared the way for running back Todd Gurley, who erupted for 1,305 rushing yards.

Sullivan was also effective as a pass-blocker and had numerous games in which he stood tall against a tough pass rush.

Projected contract (average annual value): $2 million

Cornerback: Nickell Robey-Coleman

At 5’8 and 178 pounds, he’s undersized for today’s NFL cornerback and doesn’t have the height or bulk to match up well on the outside against the modern human trees who catch passes.

But he does have the quickness and agility to perform well in the slot, a difficult position that takes away the safety net the boundary provides and requires cornerbacks to cover a lot of ground. Slot cornerbacks need to have the football intelligence to properly diagnose routes and do it fast.

Robey-Coleman emerged as one of the league’s more underrated slot corners in 2016. That was when he allowed a passer rating of just 74.9 from the slot, which put him behind only the Denver BroncosChris Harris Jr.

Over the past two seasons, he’s recorded four interceptions, and he helped improve a Rams pass defense that allowed a passer rating of 78.4 in 2017 compared to 95.5 the season prior.

Projected contract (average annual value): $1 million

Safety: Bradley McDougald

He was one of the league’s best safeties when defending the run in 2017 and recorded 17 run stops for the Seattle Seahawks through Week 16, per Mark Chichester of Pro Football Focus. That came after two seasons with 85-plus tackles for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and in 2016, McDougald finished with a career-high 10 passes defensed and had two interceptions.

He’ll be 27 years old heading into the 2018 season, and that youth combined with recent quality play likely raised his value a bit.

Projected contract (average annual value): $3 million

Defensive Tackle: Dominique Easley

Easley tore his right ACL in the 2017 preseason, and in college, he tore both of his ACLs. Needing to recover from the same severe injury three times leads to some serious mileage on a 25-year-old body.

But if Easley can rehab to be even three-quarters of his 2016 self, any team signing him will get a valuable contributor. Easley was a force up the middle in 2016 against both the run and pass, setting single-season career highs with 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

Projected contract (average annual value): $1 million

OLB: : Alex Okafor

the risk with signing Alex Okafor is obvious after he tore his Achilles in November. That’s why he’ll likely be limited to a one-year prove-it deal.

But the soon-to-be 27-year-old could reward any team that trusts he’ll bounce back quickly with high-end production for low-end dollars. Okafor is coming off a promising season in which he recorded 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks over only 10 games.

Projected contract (average annual value): $1 million

Middle Linebacker: Karlos Dansby

Dansby has recorded 317 tackles over his last three seasons (95 in 2017), and he’s snatched at least one interception in four of his last five campaigns.

He’ll turn 37 midway through the 2018 season, so there’s some injury risk. But Dansby keeps silencing those concerns. He’s played 16 games in six of his last seven seasons and has never logged fewer than 12 games throughout his 14-year career.

Projected contract (average annual value): $1.5 million

Poll

Rate Jerick McKinnon as a budget free agent addition to the Redskins RB group

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    A
    (51 votes)
  • 30%
    B
    (166 votes)
  • 37%
    C
    (209 votes)
  • 15%
    D
    (87 votes)
  • 7%
    F
    (40 votes)
553 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Jordan Matthews as an economical free agent target to line up as a starting slot receiver, or opposite Josh Doctson

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    A
    (36 votes)
  • 31%
    B
    (166 votes)
  • 35%
    C
    (187 votes)
  • 18%
    D
    (95 votes)
  • 8%
    F
    (43 votes)
527 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate TE Tyler Eifert as a low-cost free agent addition to the Redskins team

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    A
    (54 votes)
  • 24%
    B
    (123 votes)
  • 23%
    C
    (115 votes)
  • 24%
    D
    (123 votes)
  • 16%
    F
    (84 votes)
499 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Andre Smith as a budget backup OT who can come to Redskins training camp and compete for a job

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    A
    (20 votes)
  • 18%
    B
    (85 votes)
  • 36%
    C
    (168 votes)
  • 27%
    D
    (129 votes)
  • 13%
    F
    (63 votes)
465 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Alex Boone as a low-cost veteran free agent who can be a plug & play starter at left guard for the Redskins

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    A
    (55 votes)
  • 35%
    B
    (169 votes)
  • 33%
    C
    (160 votes)
  • 15%
    D
    (72 votes)
  • 3%
    F
    (17 votes)
473 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate John Sullivan as a player who can return to the Redskins on a cheap contract and start at Center, allowing Roullier to play left guard for a season or two

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    A
    (50 votes)
  • 29%
    B
    (138 votes)
  • 29%
    C
    (135 votes)
  • 21%
    D
    (98 votes)
  • 8%
    F
    (41 votes)
462 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Nickell Robey-Coleman as cheap CB depth for the Redskins

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    A
    (83 votes)
  • 27%
    B
    (118 votes)
  • 30%
    C
    (132 votes)
  • 16%
    D
    (73 votes)
  • 6%
    F
    (28 votes)
434 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Bradley McDougald as a low price veteran free agency answer to the Redskins’ needs at safety

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    A
    (26 votes)
  • 26%
    B
    (104 votes)
  • 35%
    C
    (139 votes)
  • 24%
    D
    (97 votes)
  • 7%
    F
    (29 votes)
395 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Dominique Easley as a cheap veteran free agant addition to the Redskin defensive line rotation

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    A
    (21 votes)
  • 28%
    B
    (110 votes)
  • 35%
    C
    (137 votes)
  • 20%
    D
    (81 votes)
  • 9%
    F
    (37 votes)
386 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Alex Okafor as a veteran free agent linebacker returning from injury who can improve the Redskins depth at outside linebacker

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    A
    (18 votes)
  • 23%
    B
    (87 votes)
  • 33%
    C
    (124 votes)
  • 28%
    D
    (106 votes)
  • 9%
    F
    (36 votes)
371 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Karlos Dansby as an aging but cheap veteran free agent who can provide depth to the ‘Skins group of ILBs

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    A
    (17 votes)
  • 20%
    B
    (78 votes)
  • 23%
    C
    (91 votes)
  • 30%
    D
    (119 votes)
  • 20%
    F
    (81 votes)
386 votes total Vote Now