As we inch closer to the NFL Scouting Combine and eventual 2018 NFL Draft, teams also have to decide what to do with players who are no longer under contract. There’s only so much of a roster teams can fill with rookie talent, and free agency affords teams the opportunity to either lock down stars with longterm deals, or to explore other options that maybe weren’t available in 2017.
There are eight former Ohio State players who could be on the move this offseason, including some big name offensive weapons, like Carlos Hyde and Terrelle Pryor Sr., and three Buckeye offensive guards, Alex Boone, Jack Mewhort, and Andrew Norwell. Rounding out the list are former undrafted free agent (UDFA) Tyvis Powell, and special teamers Nate Ebner and Jake McQuaide.
I’d expect most of the 2018 free agents who used to don the Scarlet and Gray to at least be added to a team’s roster heading into training camp this offseason. Most will likely earn several year deals worth millions, but a few others will probably need to come down to Earth a bit with their expectations in relation to their production (talking to you TP).
Alex Boone (Guard)
The journeyman (and verbose) offensive guard out of Ohio State has made his way around the NFL, but landed with the Arizona Cardinals ahead of the 2017 season. The team has a new offensive line coach, Ray Brown, who is expected to shake things up a bit this offseason -- and that could mean shedding some of the dead weight, including Boone.
After dominating performances for the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers, the Cardinals seemed to get a shell of what Boone previously had been. He finished the year ranked No. 66 among guards, according to his ProFootball Focus grade (39.5). By comparison (see below) Jack Mewhort’s grade was much higher (78.9) at the same position and in a season that ended short.
So, what will happen in 2018? Boone is turning 31 this year, and the decline in his production could lead to some difficulty signing a new deal. One thing’s for sure, I wouldn’t expect him to be playing for Arizona this fall, if for any team at all. IF he does find a suitor, expect him to be signed to a short, one-year deal.
Nate Ebner (Special Teams)
Just before the Buckeye made headlines for making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Rugby team — requiring a short sabbatical from the NFL — the New England Patriots signed the special teams guru to a two-year deal worth $2.4 million. After his Olympic run, he joined the Patriots for the start of the 2016 season, and finished the year as the “best special teams tackler in the NFL”.
He wasn’t able to replicate that same production in 2017, but did amass seven total special team tackles, five solo, before getting injured. Ebner now faces free agency as a six-year veteran, coming off of a season that ended with him on IR with a shoulder injury.
So, what will happen in 2018? I’m not expecting the Patriots to put in as much effort to keep Ebner as they did with assistant coach Josh McDaniels. (Yikes. That was really bad.) Ebner still has some fuel in the tank, and should sign another one- to two-year deal with either the Patriots or another franchise looking to bolster its special teams. I don’t think the Buckeye will ever sign a contract worth big money, but he’s made over $4.5 million throughout his career, so he’s doing just fine.
Carlos Hyde (Running Back)
El Guapo hasn’t had the easiest first few seasons in the NFL, having gone through three head coaches with the San Francisco 49ers in his first three seasons in the league. There is no way that this much movement at head coach doesn’t affect players with constantly changing schemes and expectations.
Since Kyle Shanahan was brought in ahead of the 2017 season, Hyde may have found his groove, and might have forced the Niners hands to produce a big money deal for the running back this offseason. Of course, as an unrestricted free agent, he can field offers from teams throughout the league, but San Francisco seems to be on the upswing — despite a terrible season — and the potential to be among the top teams is there.
Hyde’s 2017 season was a long list of career-highs, including carries (240), total offensive yards (1290), rushing touchdowns (8), receptions (59), receiving yards (350), and first downs (61). It was also his first NFL season having played in all 16 regular season games.
So, what will happen in 2018? El Guapo is about to get paaaaaaid. Hyde is coming off his fourth year in the NFL and played on his final year of his rookie deal: 4 years, $3.69 million. With some of the veteran bulldozer-type rushers nearing the end of their career (think LaGarrette Blount, Marshawn Lynch) Hyde will be in high demand. There are a lot of teams who could (and need) to bolster their rushing corp. — Green Bay and Seattle, are just two examples of teams who would benefit by signing the Buckeye.
Jake McQuaide (Long Snapper)
It’s not often long snappers get the love and admiration they deserve for the service they provide for their team, but Buckeye Jake McQuaide is known as a valuable contributor for the Los Angeles Rams. McQuaide is coming off of his second consecutive Pro Bowl season, a fitting tribute to the player first signed by the Rams (then in St. Louis) in 2011, and who hasn’t missed a single game for the team in his seven seasons.
You could make an argument for Jake “American God” McQuaide to be #1 overall, and I’m not joking. He’s been pretty much perfect in his career.
So, what will happen in 2018? I would imagine that the Rams try and nail down a multi-year deal with McQuaide, and continue their streak of not having to worry about long snaps. Ahead of the 2014 season, the Buckeye signed a 4-year deal worth $3.4 million, and it wouldn’t be crazy for him to get a similar deal this offseason. (Let’s all remember just how valuable a long snapper really is.)
Jack Mewhort (Guard)
One of the top guards available heading into free agency, Mewhort has been a starter for the Colts since they drafted him in 2014, but a myriad of injuries could curtail his chance for a big contract this offseason.
Mewhort has always been known to be a very good pass blocking offensive lineman. The Colts have suffered tremendously without him inside as Jacoby Brissett has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFL. Improving the pass blocking efficiency of the offensive line will be extremely important going into this offseason, so re-signing Mewhort will be important on that basis alone.
Mewhort’s career has been a bit up and down, with the offensive guard having missed 19 games over his four season -- 17 in the past two years alone. His absence is not something that can be ignored either. In his 45 career starts, the Buckeye has allowed just four sacks. His ProFootball Focus grade for pass blocking in 2017 (78.9) is good enough to put Mewhort in the top 25 guards in the NFL.
So, what will happen in 2018? The Colts are an absolute mess. From the new head coach spurning the team to stay with the Patriots, to Andrew Luck still not being cleared to play, the only thing good about this Indianapolis team is how many Buckeyes they have on the roster. And, if they’re smart, they’ll keep that number high by retaining Mewhort. He can expect a three to four-year deal, and it should be in the area of about $20 million. That is, if Mewhort doesn’t decide to listen to other offers and find a better franchise situation than the one he’s in now.
Andrew Norwell (Guard)
The Buckeye offensive guard is one of the highly coveted free agents about to hit the market this offseason. The Carolina Panthers kept Norwell from free agency in 2017; with the guard being a restricted free agent, the team decided to tag him with a second-round tender worth $2.746 million.
Now, with four years of experience under his belt, the former undrafted free agent is worth a lot more than he was as a rookie — hell, he’s worth a lot more now than he was last year. The 2017 season was Norwell’s best yet, and made him an essential part of Carolina’s o-line, and much more in demand with guard-needy teams.
He didn’t allow a sack or a hit all season, while surrendering just 15 total pressures across 1,140 snaps and 17 games including the playoffs. @PFF
— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) February 12, 2018
So, what will happen in 2018? The Buckeye guard is about to be rolling in money. Last year his counterpart, Trai Turner, was signed to a deal worth $45 million over four years. You can expect Norwell’s worth to be about the same, the question now is whether or not the Panthers will pay up, or consider using the franchise tag to keep his price lower while keeping him in Carolina.
Tyvis Powell (Safety)
Heading into what will be the third NFL season for former Buckeye standout Tyvis Powell, and the safety is still looking for a place to make an impact. After being a surprise omission from the 2016 NFL Draft, Powell fielded UDFA offers immediately after the seventh round of the draft, and eventually signed on with the Seattle Seahawks and the Legion of Boom.
He saw playing time in eight games his rookie season — mostly on special teams — and then spent the better part of last year’s offseason bouncing from the practice squad to practice squad before ultimately signing with the San Francisco 49ers and being activated for the final three games of the 2017 season.
The Niners did not have a good 2017, but the potential is definitely there. With the addition of the second-youngest head coach in the league, Kyle Shanahan, and bringing in Patriots backup QB Jimmy Garappolo mid-season, the team is finally looking like they are on the backend of their rebuild and Powell could fit into their younger vibe.
So, what will happen in 2018? This is a tough question, as I think Powell is great and his attitude alone is worth bringing into a locker room. He’ll definitely be on a roster during the offseason, and hopefully he’ll be able to impress his new set of coaches during the spring and land a role within the DB rotation. If not, he’s got one more season of practice squad eligibility left before he might have to look for other opportunities.
Terrelle Pryor Sr. (Wide Receiver)
Oh, boy. What a long, strange trip it’s been watching the NFL career of Terrelle Pryor. We are just a year removed from a career-season for the former Ohio State quarterback turned wide receiver. As a WR for the Cleveland Browns in 2016, Pryor finished the year as the team’s top target, claiming 77 receptions for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns. He wasn’t always the red zone target, but with an average of 13.1 yards per catch, his first down percentage was among the top in the league.
But, then.... he refused to take a deal that would have kept him in Cleveland and with Hue Jackson — the reason for Pryor finally having success in the NFL — and rather signed a one-year deal with Washington to play in 2017 for a chance at a big money, longterm contract in the following offseason.
Aside from finishing 2017 on IR thanks to an ankle injury and surgery, in nine games played, Pryor saw only 37 targets, good for 20 catches, 240 yards and one TD. His production was more than a little confusing, especially given his preseason love-fest with Washington QB Kirk Cousins, but the team didn’t do him any favors either. Near mid-season, Pryor was seeing only 1-to-2 targets a game and eventually saw time on the bench as a healthy scratch.
So, what will happen in 2018? So long as his ankle heals and he doesn’t have any lingering issues with route running or juke moves, I would be surprised if he didn’t land on a team’s roster — at least through training camp. He definitely didn’t help his cause for a longterm deal, and likely would only be signed to a one- or two-year contract. Pryor’s intention of using 2017 as a “prove it” season probably did more to hurt than help his chances.
Buckeye Free Agents