The Schein Nine

Eddie Lacy, Alshon Jeffery headline riskiest free agents of 2017

The 2017 NFL free-agent class isn't exactly overflowing with sizzle and pop -- especially with a numberof big namesreceiving thefranchise tag. And yet, you know money will be flying around after free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 9.

With that in mind, I wanted to identify players who should give teams pause in Spending Spree Season. Here are the riskiest free agents of 2017, Schein Nine style:

1) Eddie Lacy, running back

Lacy's weight is constantly a factor -- and consequently, so is his health and availability. I've always been a believer that Lacy is a solid complement to Aaron Rodgers when right, but "when right" is the vital phrase there. Lacy hasn't posted a 1,000-yard season or played in 16 games since 2014. The season-ending ankle surgery in October of last year should scare off any team thinking of tossing him a lucrative deal. As should the huge waistline in 2015 that prompted a lost season.

OK, if Lacy goes on the cheap, then it will be a worthwhile flier. After all, the guy is still just 26 years old and was averaging a career-high 5.1 yards per carry before hitting injured reserve last season.

But you simply cannot pay him anything approaching big bucks. Or bank on him to be the lead dog at running back. Don't foolishly pay for the 2,317 yards and 20 touchdowns Lacy piled up in his first two NFL seasons, because that guy hasn't showed up at the office since.

2) Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver

Let me state right off the bat that I think Jeffery is indeed a No. 1 receiver when he takes the field. There are different levels of WR1, and while he isn't on the first tier, a healthy and active Jeffery is a true top dog. But that's the key question here: Can he stay healthy and active?

Two of Jeffery's first four pro seasons were marred by injuries -- and last year saw him serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. In a contract year, yes, that's a red flag.

Also, don't overlook the actions -- or lack thereof -- from the team that drafted Jeffery. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that the Bears aren't expected to franchise tag the wide receiver, as they did last season. Chicago's offense is desperate for talent in the receiving corps, yet the franchise appears ready to let Jeffery hit the open market. That's telling.

Now, No. 1 receivers get paid. And this free-agent class is weak. From a pure on-field perspective, I think Jeffery would be a perfect fit on the Titans or Eagles -- and the 49ers, to a lesser extent. But the money is going to be off the charts. And you have to be available to earn it.

3) Morris Claiborne, cornerback

Every team craves talented corners, but this free agent just hasn't lived up to his billing as a former top-10 pick. Claiborne actually was playing some of his best football last season -- before he missed nine games with a groin issue. But that's been an earned label for Mo: He's injury-prone. In five NFL seasons, Claiborne has never logged a full 16-game slate -- in fact, he's only eclipsed 11 games played once (as a rookie). That's quite a problem when you are also labeled as inconsistent.

Last year, Claiborne displayed the talent that made him the No. 6 overall pick in 2012 -- but he did so for less than half a season. Someone is likely to gamble on Claiborne, given his position and his flashes, but that's risky business.

4) Lawrence Timmons, linebacker

Timmons, who'll turn 31 in May, is getting a bit long in the tooth. He's still a solid player, but his speed and coverage ability are deteriorating. Those aren't small issues, considering the responsibilities of an inside linebacker in today's NFL.

I hope Timmons gets to be a Steeler for life. No. 94's been a model of consistency in Pittsburgh for quite some time. Timmons has started every game for the past six seasons -- and he's only missed two games since joining the Steelers as Mike Tomlin's first draft pick back in 2007.

But Pittsburgh's defense needs to improve. It will go noted if the Steelers don't bring Timmons back. That would be a statement to the rest of the league regarding his declining skill set. Timmons can still lead, but I can't pay an aging veteran just for that quality alone.

5) Russell Okung, offensive tackle

The Broncos' offense fell apart last year, and the left tackle was a major reason why.

Denver's offensive line was a sieve in 2016. Denver gave up 40 sacks (the ninth-highest total in football) and 100 quarterback hits (eighth-highest). Meanwhile, the Broncosranked 27th in rushing.

Okung, for his part, did play in all 16 games for the first time in his career. Unfortunately, he was horrifically inconsistent on the blind side. I'd stay away.

6) Ryan Clady, offensive tackle

Denver's old left tackle got a chance to revitalize his career with the Jets. That didn't go so well, as Clady only lasted half a season before landing on IR with a torn rotator cuff. Another year, another injury. Unfortunately, that's been the story with Clady over the past few seasons.

Clady's dominant and athletic days -- those days when he earned first-team All-Pro honors twice -- are a thing of the past. Injuries have made Clady a shell of his former self. Don't get duped, like the Jets did in 2016.

7) Latavius Murray, running back

I've always liked Murray's potential, but he has never emerged as the carry-the-mail, bell-cow back. Sure, he ran for 12 touchdowns last season, but the rest of his numbers (195 carries, 788 yards, 4.0 yards per carry) didn't exactly blow you away. In 46 career games for the Raiders, he's eclipsed the century mark five times.

Oakland appears willing to let Murray walk -- and that's the correct move. The Raiders have other young backs -- DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard both showcased their talents in Year 1 -- and Murray just isn't consistent enough to command big money.

8) Geno Smith, quarterback

If you jog the mental rolodex, there was a time when Smith actually looked like he had a future. In his final four games of 2014 -- his second year in the league -- Smith posted a 105.3 passer rating. Seems like a lifetime ago, no?

From yelling expletives at fans to getting his jaw broken by a teammate in the locker room, there's always stuff with Geno. Smith isn't the savvy vet you want as your backup QB. And he clearly isn't the starter.

9) Martellus Bennett, tight end

Throughout most of his career, Bennett's productivity has fallen short of his mouth. And that's why he has been around the block, spending his nine NFL seasons with four different teams.

I've always been a fan of Bennett's because a) he's interesting and b) he's a force when he's playing up to his abilities. He obviously just played a big part in the Patriots' Super Bowl title, and he caught 90 balls for the Bears in 2014.

But when you think about breaking the bank for his game-changing ability, there are just too many holes in his career résumé. On the open market, Bennett's just too rich (and too erratic) for my blood.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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