16 NFL Free Agents Who Should Get a Look After Minicamps
Nearly four months have already passed since the beginning of 2012 NFL free agency, but there are still a significant number of big-name free agents still available.
With it now being July, it is far from a guarantee that any players who are still free agents will be signed and have the opportunity to continue their playing careers this season. However, with NFL training camps set to begin in less than three weeks, teams could start looking to add veterans to address needs on their roster, and all of these players could find themselves suiting in regular-season action come September.
DT Aubrayo Franklin
Aubrayo Franklin proved his worth as a 3-4 nose tackle in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, but in his first NFL season playing in a 4-3 defense for the New Orleans Saints, his performance dropped off.
A lack of scheme versatility may be factor in Franklin remaining unsigned, but it is a surprise he has not found a home at least as a backup nose tackle, even with a 4-3 team. Franklin is not much of an interior pass-rusher, but he is a big, strong and stout run-stopping defensive tackle who can still play a valuable role on an NFL team at 31 years of age.
Franklin visited the Atlanta Falcons in April (as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), but left without a contract. As training camp grows closer, expect Franklin to get at least one look as a second wave of interest will arise from teams in need of defensive tackle depth.
DE Andre Carter
Andre Carter has been in this position before. Last year, Carter was an unsigned free agent until Aug. 7, when he agreed to terms with the New England Patriots.
The result of Carter’s late signing was a surprising resurgence, as Carter emerged as one of the NFL’s top defensive ends and earned a Pro Bowl berth last season. Unfortunately, the 33-year-old suffered a torn quadriceps muscle late in the season, and as he continues to recover from that injury, he has not yet been signed by a team.
When Carter is healthy, he should find a place to play this season. He proved last year he still has what it takes to be a very good NFL defensive end, and even with age and injury concerns, he is worth signing to a one- or two-year contract.
Carter has been linked to and is expected to eventually return to the Patriots, but according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Carter is looking for a long-term deal, which he is unlikely to get from the Patriots or any team else. However, once he accepts that reality, it is likely he will end up being a member of the Patriots’ defensive front again in 2012.
RB Ryan Grant
Ryan Grant eclipsed 1,200 rushing yards in both the 2008 and 2009 seasons and was among the NFL’s top 10 rushers in each of those seasons. However, after missing nearly the entire 2010 season and only rushing for 559 yards last season, Grant has not received much interest this offseason.
A closer look at Grant’s numbers shows his performance has not necessarily slipped; while he ran for less than half of his rushing totals from 2009 and 2010 last season, he also had less than half of the amount of carries. That said, Grant is a back whose best ability is to carry the load and be consistent, because his game lacks any spectacular traits.
Grant may not be a difference-maker for an NFL offense, but at the very least he can provide solid depth in a running back committee. A team in need of depth at the position could be smart to take a look at Grant in training camp.
WR Plaxico Burress
After missing two seasons during a 20-month prison term, Plaxico Burress returned to the Meadowlands last season to play for the New York Jets. Burress had a decent return season with 45 receptions for 612 yards, but the Jets moved on by drafting Stephen Hill in the second round, and Burress has not found a new team yet.
Burress will be 35 when the season begins, so age is another factor working against him. However, having showed last year that he can still produce after spending nearly two years behind bars, at 6'5" he could bring some value to a team in need of a big, athletic target.
Burress was a No. 2 wideout for the Jets last season, but this year he is more likely to be brought on in a smaller role. Nonetheless, his combination of size, athleticism and ability to catch deep balls could make him an asset.
To this point, it does not appear Burress has received any substantive interest on the free-agent market, but that could change if a team’s deep threat wideout goes down.
WR Mike Sims-Walker
It was only three seasons ago, in 2009, that Mike Sims-Walker had his breakout year with the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, two seasons after catching 63 passes for 869 receiving yards, he lasted only four games after signing with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent last season.
Sims-Walker’s career took a sharp downturn last season, but he is only 27 years old and not long removed from being productive. He is a talented receiver who runs routes well and is a good athlete and is worth a look for teams in need of a third or fourth receiver.
One team in need of receiving talent, the Houston Texans, brought Mike Sims-Walker in for a tryout during minicamp, but he left without a contract. This could be a bad sign for Sims-Walker, as there are few teams more receiver-needy than the Texans, but he should get at least one more look from an NFL team during training camp.
SS Jim Leonhard
Over the past three seasons, Jim Leonhard proved himself to be a very solid NFL strong safety. Unfortunately, his last two seasons have each ended with major injuries.
In 2010, Leonhard suffered a fractured tibia late in the season. He returned to be productive once again in 2011, but he was hit even harder by injury when his season ended due to a torn patellar tendon.
Leonhard’s contract expired with the Jets, and now NFL teams are waiting on his recovery. When he is proven to be healthy, he should get his fair share of looks around the league. Even if Leonhard never returns to starting status, he can be a great asset as a third safety and a special teams contributor, assuming he can return to form coming off his second straight season-ending injury.
ILB Gary Brackett
Gary Brackett made 84 starts for the Indianapolis Colts from 2005-2010 and was one of the NFL’s most consistently performing middle linebackers during those six years. Last season, however, Brackett played in only one game before going down for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.
Brackett was released as one of the purges of the Colts’ rebuilding efforts this offseason, and he does not appear to have received any significant interest since.
At 32 years of age, his best years could be behind him, but he can bring experience, consistency and leadership to a defense, and could end up being a great addition as a backup middle or inside linebacker. He is at least worth a look for teams in need of depth at the position.
OLB Ernie Sims
Ernie Sims’ career got off to a promising start for the Detroit Lions but has since taken on the form of an NFL draft bust. Just six years after being selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, Sims has played on three different teams in the last three seasons and is currently unemployed.
Although he has become a journeyman in recent years, Sims has still has decent productivity, and as an athletic linebacker who is only 27 years old, he still has potential to contribute. Sims never became the star outside linebacker he was expected to be, but with the right team he can contribute in a situational role.
It does not appear Sims has generated any significant interest among NFL teams this offseason, but that could change once training camps hit swing.
OL Vernon Carey
Vernon Carey was a seven-year starting offensive lineman with the Miami Dolphins, but he has yet to find a home for the 2012 season.
Carey’s primary position with the Dolphins was at right tackle, but he can kick inside to play guard as well, which he did for much of last season. He is a polished veteran who is solid as both a run-blocker and pass-protector and could bring experienced depth to a team thin on offensive linemen.
According to Len Pasquarelli of The Sports Xchange, Carey has started receiving interest in recent weeks. For a team looking for a veteran who can provide depth at right tackle and both guard spots, expect Carey to earn a place in a training camp.
WR Braylon Edwards
Braylon Edwards has the talent to be a true No. 1 wideout in the NFL, but his career has been continuously plagued by drops, injuries and character concerns. Teams have likely been steered away from him thus far, but his ability warrants taking a chance on him.
Edwards is coming off his worst season of his career, in which he only caught 15 passes for 181 yards for the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. Now Edwards, a receiver with tremendous natural gifts including great size, hands and athletic ability, is looking for a chance to redeem himself and get his career back headed back in a positive direction.
The 2007 Pro Bowl selection may continue to wait as a result of his recent poor play and past off-field decisions, but a team should give him a look in training camp.
RB Cedric Benson
In four seasons as a Cincinnati Bengals, Cedric Benson’s career underwent a resurgence, and he has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons. However, while Benson has been a productive rusher, he is best suited to be a load-carrying feature back, something he is not likely to be for a new team.
Benson is a durable, physical runner who can gain consistent yardage, but he is not an explosive game-changer. Additionally, he has been arrested three times since 2008, which could be turning many teams away from taking a chance on him.
Thus far, Benson has been passed over in favor of younger backs and runners with cleaner records, but he should still get a chance. His productivity over the past three seasons should not be ignored, and for a team looking to add a runner to take on a playing role in its rotation, he could be an effective addition.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Oakland Raiders have shown interest in Benson, where he would factor in as a backup to Darren McFadden. This could be a good situation if their look at him turns forward into a contract.
ILB E.J. Henderson
Two seasons ago, E.J. Henderson made the Pro Bowl, but even after a productive season in which he had 109 total tackles, he remains unsigned.
Henderson will be 32 in August, but he is still playing at a high level. He has had some trouble in recent seasons with leg injuries but has not missed a start in two seasons. He has been a reliable starter for eight seasons in Minnesota, and it comes as a surprise that no team has signed him yet.
To this point, there has been no reported interest in Henderson, but that could change once an NFL team comes to be in need of depth at middle or inside linebacker. Even as Henderson slows down, he can still be a valuable contributor and is well worth a look for potential depth as an experienced veteran.
DE Matt Roth
Matt Roth spent only one season with the Jaguars, and after a subpar season in which he only played in nine games due to concussions, he is still looking for work for the 2012 season.
Roth is far from a dominant pass-rusher, but he is a solid all-around defensive end who also has the versatility to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. At the very least, he should be worth a look for a team with a need for depth at defensive end or outside linebacker and could get that look when training camp starts.
C Andre Gurode
Andre Gurode was a perennial Pro Bowl center from 2006-2010, but in a surprise move last August, the Dallas Cowboys released him. Last year, he became primarily a reserve guard for the Baltimore Ravens.
Gurode’s game is declining at 34 years old, but that said, he is not far removed from being one of the NFL’s best interior linemen. With his experience and ability, Gurode should at least be worth a look for any team in need of depth on the interior offensive line.
G Jake Scott
Out of a possible 128 games that Jake Scott could have started in eight seasons, he has started 121, including every game in the past seven seasons. Scott is not dominant, but he is a solid presence who can play either guard position.
At 31 years old, Scott is still worth a look for a team in need of interior line depth, and one would think that he could still be capable of holding down a starting spot if necessary. According to the Miami Herald, he has had two visits with the Miami Dolphins but has yet to sign a contract with the team. More looks should come his way once training camps begin.
QB Dennis Dixon
There are no high-profile names still available among free agent quarterbacks, but one that could end up getting a look is former Pittsburgh Steelers backup Dennis Dixon.
Dixon did not do much in four seasons with the Steelers, but he is a solid dual-threat who can be a capable backup. For a team that loses one of its top two quarterbacks to an injury in training camp, Dixon would be a good choice to come in, provide depth and spot start if necessary.
At 27, Dixon is still young and has potential to develop in a new system. He is worth a look for a team who needs a quarterback and is looking to sign a cheap option out of free agency.