Finding the Ideal Fit for Top Remaining NFL Free Agents
NFL training camp officially began last week, and the injury bug has already affected notable players on championship contenders. The Baltimore Ravens' Dennis Pitta was ruled out for the entire 2013 season after undergoing hip surgery, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, and center Denver Broncos center Dan Koppen tore his ACL during practice this weekend according to ESPN.
The number of season-ending injuries has left teams scrambling to find replacements out on the open market. This current free-agent crop has plenty of veterans who were former first-round picks and were once productive starters at the professional level.
What are the best current free agents available? What teams are the best fits for their services? Here is my take on the current crop of talent.
FB Vonta Leach
After receiving his release from the Ravens back in June, the best all-around fullback in the game appears to be close towards re-signing with the defending champions.
Ultimately, it is clearly the right move for Leach. With the unfortunate development of Dennis Pitta missing the entire season, it's evident that the Ravens running game is bound to become more of a factor in 2013.
An expected workload can very well happen for Ray Rice and second year running back Bernard Pierce, who emerged on the scene for the Ravens last season.
While the signing hasn't officially happened, the deal makes perfect sense for both parties.
Update: Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun reports that Leach has re-signed with the Ravens.
ILB Joe Mays
Joe Mays continues his search for a new team after his tenure with the Denver Broncos came to an end this offseason.
While neither team is offering a starting spot at this moment, Mays' best shot of finding playing time would be with the Redskins.
Washington's depth took a hit this week when it was announced that linebacker Keenan Robinson would miss most, if not all, of the 2013 season.
That leaves Mays to potentially be the next in line for a starting position in the event that London Fletcher or Perry Riley were injured over the course of the year.
Update: Mays has signed with Houston, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
RB Willis McGahee
Willis McGahee remains the most productive running back on the market, as he was a valuable asset to the Broncos before the team decided to get younger at the position.
If McGahee checks out fully healthy from his knee injury, he could be valuable to a team in search of a running game. He is a good ball-carrier who shows glimpses of break-away speed against opposing defenses.
If his carries are monitored, he can be an effective running back who could be reliable to any team, especially one competing for the postseason.
Thus, McGahee could become an ideal candidate for the Steelers. As Pittsburgh looks to revert back towards inserting the "ground and pound" mentality, there could be concerns about letting rookie running back Le'veon Bell and Issac Redman take the bulk of the carries.
If there is no market for McGahee, he could take a cheaper veteran contract with the chance to prove his worth for teams in 2014.
Another team that could use his services is the Jets. With Chris Ivory having a history of battling nagging hamstring issues, McGahee could be an ideal halfback that could fit with the physical style of play that New York runs.
FS Kerry Rhodes
If a front-office executive wanted to make an upgrade to a team's secondary over the next month, eight-year veteran Kerry Rhodes would be a legitimate option.
The reasoning for Rhodes' lack of interest is a starting one. Rhodes recorded four interceptions last year as part of a Cardinals secondary that held its own against an incredibly tough NFC West.
Rhodes appeared to be on good terms during his tenure with the Cardinals and has experience playing under two quality coordinators in Rex Ryan and Ray Horton.
The Cleveland Browns would be an interesting connection based on his relationship with Horton. But the Browns' division rival in the Cincinnati Bengals could benefit the most from the acquisition.
With the expectations that they are ready to contend, Rhodes would be an upgrade over Reggie Nelson, and the team wouldn't need to spend a lot of cap space in the process.
WR Brandon Lloyd
Brandon Lloyd remains the most notable wide receiver on the free-agent landscape after his one-year stint with the New England Patriots.
A team that is desperate for an improvement in production at the position should at least give Lloyd a camp invite.
Despite his inconsistencies on a weekly basis, Lloyd finished with 911 yards and four touchdowns last year. He is capable of playing as a receiver who is a vertical threat and can challenge secondaries deep.
The Ravens are the team that could benefit the most from his services. The departure of Anquan Boldin and the injury to Dennis Pitta reinforces the need for more targets in the passing game. He could join in the competition that is featuring Jacoby Jones, Tommy Streeter and Tandon Doss.
More importantly, the Ravens have a stable locker room that could keep Lloyd in line for as long as they want him around.