We continue to hear about the big names heading into free agency on March 18. Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Dak Prescott and even Amari Cooper are among them.
However, this year’s NFL free-agent class is absolutely stacked with under-the-radar options. From a longtime Green Bay Packers offensive tackle to a young slot cornerback in Minnesota, some relatively unknown players will earn a ton of cash this month.
It’s in this that I look at the five-most underrated NFL free agents heading into the start of the new league year.
Bryan Bulaga, offensive tackle, Green Bay Packers
A full-time starter for the Packers over the past decade after being a first-round pick back in 2010, Bulaga remains one of the most consistent tackles in the NFL. He’s started all but four of 115 games as a member of the team.
Realistically, the Packers would want to retain Bulaga ahead of the start of free agency on March 18. However, the market might dictate otherwise. He’s likely looking at $12-plus million on an annual basis. Is that something Green Bay is willing to pay? We’ll find out soon enough.
Breshad Perriman, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Considered a major bust after being selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens, Perriman enjoyed a breakout season in 2019. The 6-foot-2 pass catcher tallied 36 receptions for 645 yards and six touchdowns while averaging nearly 18 yards per catch. Those are some tremendous numbers.
Still only 26 years old, Perriman is seen as a second-tier option heading into free agency. The likes of Robby Anderson and Emmanuel Sanders have been talked about more. The team that eventually signs this talented receiver will likely receive a major bargain. That’s for sure.
Cory Littleton, linebacker, Los Angeles Rams
I am somewhat surprised that Los Angeles is not considering placing the franchise tag on this Pro Bowl linebacker. Sure the team is up against the cap. It would be hard for Los Angeles to pay the near $16 million it would cost to tag Littleton. Even then, he’s the team’s most valuable defensive player outside of Aaron Donald.
Littleton, 26, recorded 134 tackles, nine passes defended, four fumble recoveries, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles this past season. He’s ascending the ranks of the game’s best inside linebackers. I am fully expecting Littleton’s market to take this into account with an average annual salary of $17-plus million. It just won’t be from the Rams.
Carlos Hyde, running back, Houston Texans
A cast-off of the Kansas City Chiefs prior to the start of the 2019 season, Houston acquired Hyde back in August for pennies on the dollar. The former San Francisco 49ers starter responded big time, recording north of 1,100 total yards while averaging 4.4 yards per rush.
Despite this, Hyde is not being talked about as a top-end free agent. The likes of Melvin Gordon and reigning NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry are getting more play. This is great news for teams looking to add a solid starter on the cheap. Hyde is unlikely to earn anywhere near $5 million annually on the open market.
Mackensie Alexander, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings
It is somewhat shocking to realize that Alexander is still only 26 years old after having already played four seasons in the NFL. Despite some struggles with consistency, the upside is through the roof here. The numbers (five passes defended, one interception last season) don’t tell us the entire story here.
Alexander yielded the lowest quarterback rating (89.4) among Vikings corners last season. He’s a perfect slot option for teams in need of an upgrade in the defensive backfield. Add in his age and ceiling, and someone is going to throw a ton of money in Alexander’s direction. Take that to the bank.