The NFL's free agency period is well underway but many topnotch, underrated players still need to find a new home. Where will guard Vernon Carey, linebacker Curtis Lofton and tight end Dallas Clark play next season?
Vernon Carey is one of the league's most underrated guards. The position is always difficult to star at because guards are overshadowed by tackles. But good guard play is essential to running the ball effectively and to pass blocking, which means that an underrated player of Carey's caliber should get paid. He has played every game but one for the Miami Dolphins over the past five years and provided a solid mix of run and pass blocking.
Carey may not be as good as fellow free agents Ben Grubbs or Carl Nicks, but he should be signed by a team that needs to improve its offensive line. The Chicago Bears look like a fit, particularly if they want to keep Roberto Garza at center. The Dolphins could also re-sign him or the Baltimore Ravens could look at him as a replacement for Grubbs.
Curtis Lofton is the best defensive player still unsigned. The Atlanta Falcons linebacker has always flown under the radar but now stands to benefit from being the last "star" player that a team can sign this offseason. Lofton is durable, having played every game in each of the past four seasons. He is also consistent—reaching the 100-plus tackle mark in each of the past three seasons and coming close to 100 solo tackles in all of them.
Since Lofton is also a younger player with only four seasons under his belt, he should get paid by a team that needs dynamism at linebacker. The Falcons could re-sign him. If not, the Packers could use a defensive talent infusion, particularly from a tackle machine like Lofton. General manager Ted Thompson's aversion to free agency is well known but Lofton is young and won't be as expensive as a day one star signing.
Plus, don't forget about Dallas Clark, the silent victim of the Colts' horrific season and its fallout. Peyton Manning made the headlines this week but Clark was a crucial part of his years of success. He has struggled with injuries but remains a top producer at the position when healthy.
Don't be surprised if he follows Manning to Denver. If not, the Bears could be a fit since they are adding receiving targets for quarterback Jay Cutler.
So, stay tuned: the big stars may already be inked but some very underrated difference makers still need to find new homes.