2012 Free Agents: 5 Underrated Players Who Teams Must Contact
The 2012 NFL free-agency period began a week and a half ago, and many of the big names are off the market.
That doesn't mean the shelves are bare. There are still plenty of useful, underrated free agents available.
These guys might not be the bright, shiny toys that everybody wants, but they can fill a role and perhaps even be difference makers wherever they land.
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Billy Volek, QB
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2011 team: San Diego Chargers
Billy Volek is nothing more than a backup quarterback in the NFL, but he has started 10 games and could provide a solid insurance policy for a team with an injured starter.
The Chargers cut Volek earlier this month after signing Charlie Whitehurst to back up Philip Rivers.
Volek, who will be 36 next season, would be entering his 13th season in the NFL. His finest hour came in 2007, when he replaced an injured Rivers and completed three of four passes to lead the Chargers' game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of their 28-24 AFC Divisional playoff win at Indianapolis.
Volek's career quarterback rating of 84.9 would have tied him for 14th for the 2011 regular season.
Curtis Lofton, LB
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2011 team: Atlanta Falcons
It might be hard to characterize Curtis Lofton as "underrated." Bleacher Report ranks him 32nd on the list of the top 100 free agents.
However, the Falcons tend to fly under the radar because they haven't won a playoff game during the Matt Ryan Era.
Lofton, who will be 26 next season, was fifth in the NFL with 147 tackles in 2011. He has been the Falcons' leading tackler over the past three seasons, helping them make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Lofton visited the Saints, according to the Times-Picayune, but as of this writing is still available.
Derek Landri, DT
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2011 team: Philadelphia Eagles
What team can't use that?
Landri joined the Eagles in Week 5 last season and played in 12 games. He helped the Eagles win two NFC East games by recovering a fumble with 1:17 left in a 17-10 win over the Giants and blocking a field goal in a 34-10 win over the Redskins.
The 290-pound, 28-year-old Landri rose to the occasion in his only playoff game. He had a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery in the Jacksonville Jaguars' 31-29 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 2007 AFC Wild-Card game. It was the last time the Steelers lost a playoff game in Pittsburgh.
Landri also has a full year as a starter under his belt. He started all 16 games for the Carolina Panthers in 2010 with career highs in tackles (43) and sacks (three), according to NFL.com.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR
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However, he left without signing a contract, according to WFAN Pittsburgh.
Cotchery caught only 16 passes in 2011. He struggled to fit into the Steelers' offense early in the season but eventually surpassed Hines Ward on the depth chart and was more of a factor in the second half of the season, catching all 16 of his passes in the last nine games.
Cotchery is big-game receiver. He had only one catch in the Steelers' wild-card playoff loss in Denver, but it was for a 31-yard touchdown that tied the game in the final four minutes.
In 2010, Cotchery had five catches for 96 yards in the New York Jets' 28-21 playoff upset of the New England Patriots. The following week, he caught five passes for 33 yards in the Jets' AFC Championship Game loss at Pittsburgh. He was instrumental in the Jets' near comeback from a 24-0 deficit in that game, catching a four-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-19 in the final minutes.
The Steelers made sure Cotchery couldn't hurt them anymore and signed him last offseason. With Ward retired, they would be wise to re-sign him. If they don't, there are teams the soon-to-be 30-year-old can help.
Anthony Collins, T
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2011 team: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are trying to re-sign Collins, a backup right tackle. Meanwhile, at the time of this writing, there's still time for another team to swoop in and snatch away the 315 pounder.
Collins wasn't the Bengals' starting right tackle in 2011 because he played behind Andre Smith, the NFL's No. 10 right tackle in Bleacher Report's NFL 1000 series.
However, Collins played seven games and contributed to one of the NFL's top offensive lines. According to NFL.com, the Bengals were fourth in the league in both sacks allowed (25) and quarterback hits (60) in 2011.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked just once in each of the two games Collins started at right tackle, and Collins wasn't responsible for either sack, according to Pro Football Weekly.
Collins has played in 16 games over the past two seasons with no false start penalties and one holding penalty. He's had two false start infractions and has been caught holding three times in his four-year career, according to Pro Football Weekly.