It appears as though we’ve finally turned our attention from free agency to the NFL draft, but that doesn’t mean there’s not quality players still available for the taking on the open market.
Restricted free agents aside, there remains a handful of impact players on either side of the football that can help both contenders and rebuilders. While there was an early blitz on receivers and pass-rushers during free agency, a group of other positions have experienced a slow developing market, and players at said positions haven’t seen the top dollar they were likely expecting.
So let’s take a look at five of the best remaining free agents available (unrestricted only), and identify potential landing spots for each.
McNeil was shelved at the end of 2011 with a neck injury, and San Diego ultimately cut ties with the hulking left tackle before the start of the new league year.
But let's not forget his track record: He’s a two-time Pro Bowler who played his entire rookie season at a premium position without recording a single holding penalty.
The Chargers saw enough in McNeill to re-up him with a six-year deal before the 2010 season, and the guy is an impressive athlete with a massive wingspan and frame (he’s nearly 6’8”).
One team that we know values pass-rushing is Buffalo, considering the Bills have invested nearly $130 million this offseason in a pair of new pass-rushers. With that in mind, the Bills are likely also aware of the hole they have at left tackle, and what a quality rusher could expose on their offense.
Ryan Fitzpatrick may not be the long-term solution at quarterback, but he certainly won't be if he doesn’t have the time to throw.
Landing McNeill—assuming he’s healthy, which is still a big question mark—would solidify arguably Buffalo’s biggest hole.
Prediction: Buffalo, one year, $3 million.
Should McNeill go to Buffalo, he’d take the place of Bell, who flashed promise in 2011. But the mutual interest between he and Buffalo is surprisingly lukewarm. That could signal that the team values him less than we’d think they would, and that he’s soon to find a new home.
While many teams have already shored up their left tackle position, Bell offers unique value with the ability to swing to the right side, which ought to help his value for a number of franchises.
One team that has expressed interested in Bell is Washington, who would figure to have concerns about the play of Jamaal Brown, and whose current starter at left tackle—Trent Williams—was recently suspended for a failed drug test. The ‘Skins are strapped for draft picks after moving up to the No. 2 spot in this year’s draft, and they have never been afraid to pay a guy they covet.
Bell’s athleticism and versatility seem right up Mike Shanahan’s alley.
Prediction: Washington, two years, $7 million.
Throughout the offseason, it’s appeared it was only a matter of time before Hawthorne returned to Seattle, where he racked up 115 tackles in 2011 in a starting role.
Alas, he remains on the market, with a Seahawks reunion still amongst the most likely conclusions to his story. Hawthorne has limited third-down value, but he can certainly stop the run and may be best served to re-enter the market a year from now.
Should he choose to do so, the Seahawks would figure to be his landing spot, and he’ll once again aim for a stellar season to cash in in 2013.
Prediction: Seattle, one year, $2.5 million.
Castillo was once a top-flight 3-4 defensive end, but injuries derailed what was a promising and productive career.
He’s always played with strong technique and has the physical skills to resurrect his career. Castillo is also versatile enough to shift around the defensive front, providing both run-stuffing and pass-rushing ability.
One team that mixes it up on the defensive line is New England, who, according to the Boston Herald, already had Castillo in for a visit. There’s no doubt Bill Belichick could find a niche for Castillo, and the team is actively pursuing help along the line.
Moreover, he could be had for cheap, and we know New England isn’t afraid to take a flier on discount-priced veterans.
Prediction: New England, one year, veteran minimum.
If you’re not a fan of Roth’s game at this point in his career, I can’t entirely disagree with you, because he’s been a disappointment in recent seasons.
But I—and I suspect some NFL teams as well—are enamored with some of his tools. He’s athletic and powerful enough to be a productive pass-rusher in the right environment; he just shouldn’t be counted on to be the top guy.
There’s a team out there that’s already invested in a trio of pass-rushers, but could still stand to add depth and talent along the defensive front, and that’s Atlanta.
Roth is coming off a concussion-shortened 2011 and certainly has plenty to prove, and picking him up may be a shrewd maneuver for GM Thomas Dimitroff. He could serve in a limited role, ease the burden on John Abraham and Ray Edwards and pair with Kroy Biermann to provide an imposing pair of depth rushers.
Prediction: Atlanta, one year, veteran minimum.