Predicting Where Top Remaining NFL Free Agents Will Sign
Back on March 12, the NFL’s 2013 league year began and the free-agency period opened with a flurry of activity. Almost 17 weeks later, there are few certainties pertaining to the remaining players that are ready, willing and able to play in 2013 but are not on a roster.
It’s a buyer’s market, as teams are now less than a month away from the start of training camp. Most teams have already spent the majority of the money they’re going to spend this offseason and have filled out their depth charts.
There still are, however, a number of quality veterans out there in the free-agent pool. The key to their success in signing somewhere this late in the offseason is price and availability. There will be situations (read: injury or other roster openings) that require a team to grab one of these veterans at some point prior to Week 1. As long as these remaining free agents stay as close to game shape as possible and are willing to accept the reduced rate of pay that is like to be given to free agents in June, job offers will be handed out.
Here are the top 10 free agents that are still available along with a prediction as to where each of them will land.
John Abraham, DE
Most pass-rushing defensive ends that grab 10 sacks in a season don’t get released the following offseason and have trouble finding work elsewhere. But defensive end John Abraham is still sitting around, waiting for a phone call.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was the league’s seventh-best 4-3 defensive end, compiling a 10.3 pass-rush productivity rating for the Atlanta Falcons.
The problem for Abraham was that he is too old (he turned 35 in May) and was scheduled to make too much money in 2013, so the Falcons had to part ways with the still-capable end.
Atlanta reached out to Abraham in early May, according to a USA Today report, and asked him to return at a reduced rate of pay. Nothing materialized, though.
Abraham has visited other teams as well, including the Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, to name a few.
Abraham is too good not to land somewhere, averaging just fewer than 11 sacks per season over the last three years. As soon as he’s willing to adjust his price tag, some door—or doors—will open.
The move that makes the most sense is for Abraham to return to Atlanta. He’s thrived in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s system, and with Osi Umenyiora now on the Falcons roster, Abraham could return and play fewer snaps so his aging frame can stay fresh.
Best fit: Atlanta Falcons
Richard Seymour, DT
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour has played 12 seasons in the NFL and is now finding it hard to find a team willing to hire him to play season No. 13.
Seymour has been in contract talks with the Atlanta Falcons for some time, but on June 16, after talks seemingly stalled, Seymour told Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports that the two sides couldn’t agree on terms. “I thank them for their efforts,” Seymour said.
Seymour to the Falcons makes too much sense for this not to happen, though. Seymour lives in the Atlanta area in the offseason, played football at the University of Georgia, and his son is headed to junior college to play football but told ESPN's Kipp Adam's (subscription required) that he plans “to be at Georgia in January 2015."
This move also makes sense for both parties on the field. Seymour’s experience would be extremely helpful to a unit of interior defensive linemen that, outside of defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, underachieved last season. His run-stopping ability is attractive as well, especially to a run defense that ranked No. 21 in the NFL last season and gave up 1,971 rushing yards.
Price is going to be a huge issue going forward if the Falcons want to get Seymour signed.
Best fit: Atlanta Falcons
Brandon Moore, OG
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brandon Moore ranked No. 4 in the NFL last season among offensive guards, and he’s surely one of the best remaining free agents left on the market.
The issue, however, is that Moore wants to be paid like a starter, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. While he was a rock for the Jets at guard, Moore just turned 33 years old in June and, according to Dan Pompei of the National Football Post, is viewed as a “stopgap” and “overhyped” player by at least one NFL front office.
Spoiler alert: Some team will pony up starter money for Moore.
It may be the Chicago Bears, who Michael C. Wright of ESPN Chicago reports have interest in Moore. The Bears are in “win-now” mode, which means Moore’s age won’t be an issue. Chicago also has a glaring hole on its offensive line that Moore could fill.
Best fit: Chicago Bears
Eric Winston, OT
There’s nothing wrong with the way offensive tackle Eric Winston looks in a uniform, as his 6’6”, 305-pound frame is somewhat prototypical for the position. He’s also durable, having started all 16 games in each of his last six seasons—five for the Houston Texans and one for the Kansas City Chiefs.
For some reason, though, Winston has been released by two different teams in each of the last two seasons. He moved to what he thought were greener pastures when he left Houston for Kansas City prior to the 2012 season, but now there’s a logjam with the Chiefs at offensive tackle, and Winston was sent packing.
Winston gave up three sacks, six quarterback hits and 25 quarterback hurries last season, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked No. 26 among tackles in the NFL.
He’s visited a number of teams since his release, including the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans. According to Dan Pompei of National Football Post, Winston might be best suited for a zone-blocking scheme.
The Titans use a zone and have made it no secret that they want to improve their offensive line to bolster the running game.
Best fit: Tennessee Titans
Brandon Lloyd, WR
Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd caught 74 passes last season with the New England Patriots but was a cap casualty back in March after the team severed ties with him to save $3 million.
With everything that’s happened in New England in the Aaron Hernandez saga, it would seem natural that the Patriots would consider bringing back the veteran pass-catcher. That ship has sailed, though, according to Field Yates of ESPN Boston:
The Patriots, and any NFL team, always want a harmonious locker room, but now would seem to be a time when the Patriots are particularly interested in finding players who fit among the rest of the team. By that token, if Lloyd’s behavior did in fact play a part in the team’s decision to release him previously, we wouldn’t expect a reunion.
Lloyd needs to land somewhere that has a quality receiver—or receivers—in place so he can fly under the radar. The Cincinnati Bengals might offer that situation.
With 7,067 passing yards in his first two seasons, quarterback Andy Dalton has shown that he can sling the ball around. And with superstar wide receiver A.J. Green in place, Lloyd would never be asked to shoulder the burden of being the sole playmaker.
Best fit: Cincinnati Bengals
Vonta Leach, FB
Yes, the fullback is a dying position in today’s pass-happy NFL, but no one has played the position better over the last few seasons than Vonta Leach. Furthermore, Leach has a proven track record of opening holes for elite running backs.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has averaged at least 4.4 yards per carry with Leach in town and rushed for 2,507 yards over the last two seasons. Houston Texans running back Arian Foster scored 16 rushing touchdowns and tallied 1,616 yards on the ground when he followed Leach in Houston.
What running back in the NFL wouldn’t want his team to sign Leach?
The Miami Dolphins lead the pack of suitors to obtain Leach's services in 2013, according to Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald. Other teams in the mix include the New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans.
Miami’s running back situation is unproven but has great upside with Lamar Miller and Mike Gillislee. These two young rushers would benefit from Leach’s presence.
Best fit: Miami Dolphins
Quintin Mikell, S
Quintin Mikell was the fifth-best safety in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). But Mikell is 32 years old and was due to make $6 million in 2013. Therefore, he was released by the St. Louis Rams in March.
The Rams have shown interest in bringing Mikell back, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but another NFC team has popped up recently as an interested party.
The Carolina Panthers are making a play for Mikell, and Comcast SportsNet insider Geoff Mosher reports that a deal could be done soon to bring the safety to Charlotte.
The safety situation in Carolina could definitely be bolstered by Mikell’s addition, as current starters Charles Godfrey and Haruki Nakamura ranked No. 82 and No. 48, respectively, on Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) safety rankings from 2012.
Best Fit: Carolina Panthers
Kerry Rhodes, S
In a move that’s an all-too-familiar tragedy in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals released safety Kerry Rhodes in March because he was set to make $6 million this season.
Rhodes has age and skill on his side, though, as he’ll turn just 31 years old in August and posted 67 tackles last season with one sack and four interceptions. He ranked No. 4 on the Pro Football Focus (subscription required) list of NFL safeties in 2012.
The Cleveland Browns are in need of help at the safety position, and even though Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland believes that Rhodes only makes sense for a Super Bowl contender, Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer reported that Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton “thinks very highly” of Rhodes.
Rhodes already knows Horton’s scheme, too, since he played for him for the past two seasons in Arizona.
Best fit: Cleveland Browns
Brandon Stokley, WR
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning made a push for his team to re-sign wide receiver Brandon Stokley this offseason, according to Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post—and that was after the team had already picked up free-agent receiver Wes Welker.
Here’s a guy in Stokley that caught 45 passes from Manning last season in Denver and 139 of them from Manning in Indianapolis, where the two were paired from 2003 to 2006. There’s definitely a bond between passer and receiver here.
Stokley hasn’t garnered much buzz in the free-agent market this offseason, and if the Broncos did bring him back, it’d only be to compete for the No. 4 receiver role with Andre Caldwell. But few receivers can say they’re locked in with Manning enough to make a difference so low on the depth chart. However, Stokley is one of them.
Manning said in a perfect world he’d “like both of them (Welker and Stokley) to be on the team this year." In a perfect world, most teams want to make Manning happy.
Best fit: Denver Broncos
Dallas Clark, TE
Tight end Dallas Clark just turned 34 years old and is sitting around, waiting by the phone for some team to need his services.
The New England Patriots might just come calling.
Tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have caught a combined 362 passes and 56 touchdowns for the Patriots over the last three seasons. But legal troubles have caused the Patriots to release Hernandez, and injuries may cause Gronkowski to miss quite a bit of time for New England in 2013.
Clark is the ultimate professional and caught 47 passes in Tampa Bay last season after catching 427 passes over the previous nine seasons in Indianapolis with Peyton Manning and the Colts.
Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston thinks Clark should be one of the free-agent tight ends added to the Patriots’ radar.
Best fit: New England Patriots