Free agency in the NFL is a chance for stars coming off huge years to get their money in a big contract. However, there are plenty of lesser-known players who will settle for smaller deals before providing great value to their new teams.
Fans saw last season how a team like the Denver Broncos could get value in free agency from players like Shaun Phillips or Louis Vasquez, who were instrumental on the team's run to the Super Bowl.
While big names like Jairus Byrd and Eugene Monroe can make an impact after signing big deals, these players can provide their new organizations with much more bang for the buck. These free agents are unlikely to sign huge deals, but they will be worth much more than they get.
Anthony Collins, Offensive Tackle
The Cincinnati Bengals desperately want to keep their tackle before he hits free agency, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:
LT market is active & Bengals trying to not be in it by hoping to lock up Anthony Collins, who emerged in ‘13. LT-needy teams waiting on him— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 7, 2014
This should tell you what you need to know about how Anthony Collins' own team feels about him, and the rest of the league will think the same thing in the coming days and weeks.
Despite a lot of teams looking for a starting offensive tackle, Collins does not appear likely to cash in big due to a big market of starter-quality players. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com only rated the swing tackle as the sixth-best lineman on the market, behind a few impact players like Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert.
While these proven players will likely get big money for multiple years, there will be a bit of hesitation for Collins considering he has only started 25 games in his six-season career.
Still, this past season was a coming-out party for the former fourth-round pick. He rarely got an opportunity before 2013, but he ended the year as the starting left tackle for a unit rated as the No. 2 offensive line in the NFL by Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus.
Gordon McGuinness of PFF notes that Collins would be a smart option for a team like the Baltimore Ravens if they miss out on Monroe:
Said it before but worth repeating tonight. A guy like Anthony Collins would be a decent, cheaper fall back option for the #Ravens at LT.— Gordon McGuinness (@PFF_Gordon) March 3, 2014
With his talent and versatility to play either left or right tackle, Collins could become an elite lineman that only ends up costing a minimal salary in his next contract.
Walter Thurmond, Cornerback
A four-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy certainly hurt Walter Thurmond's stock. What hurt it even more was that he lost his starting job in the Seattle Seahawks secondary when he came back.
Of course, the fact remains that the cornerback would start on virtually any team in the league that does not feature arguably the best secondary in history. Thurmond does not have the size of Richard Sherman or Byron Maxwell, but he has great technique and quickness that allowed him to cover a receiver either in the slot or on the outside.
This is a man who cares so much about his craft that he once displayed anger after forcing a key fumble, explaining, "It was bad technique on my part. I could’ve played the route concept better than I did. I’d rather take the technique than the forced fumble," via Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times.
At his best, Thurmond is a full-time starter and one of the top cornerbacks in the league, capable of shutting down all but a few elite receivers. At worst, he is a nickel corner who could still provide tremendous value on a team in this pass-happy league.
However, he is likely to be overlooked with an impressive list of available cornerbacks, as noted by Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:
Cornerback not as deep with Grimes off market … but Talib, DRC, Verner, Vontae, Shields … still very deep.— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) March 3, 2014
Teams that are unable to sign Alterraun Verner or Aqib Talib could settle for a fair contract with Thurmond and watch him star next season.
Andre Roberts, Wide Receiver
After losing targets to Michael Floyd this past season, it seems like Andre Roberts has played his last game with the Arizona Cardinals.
The four-year veteran explained to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
I don’t think I’ll be back in Arizona. I haven’t received any phone calls from Arizona and free agency is coming up here in about a week. I definitely feel I did the most with my opportunities, but I thought I would get a little bit more coming my way balls-wise. It’s part of the business. But I don’t think I’ll be back in Arizona. I’ll be testing the market.
This is good news for every other team in the market for a slot receiver who can post big numbers if given the opportunity. Roberts showed off his skill in 2012 when he finished with 759 yards on 64 receptions with five touchdowns.
After seeing what a player like Julian Edelman can do in the right system and an opportunity to shine, it is clear that Roberts has plenty of value. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com even argues that it would be smarter to grab the former Cardinals receiver than Edelman:
Let someone else overpay for Edelman's 2013 numbers. Underpay for Andre Roberts' 2012 numbers instead http://t.co/SBP2aYwgBf— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) March 5, 2014
Wesseling explains in his article that Roberts "can be every bit as productive as Edelman in the right offense."
Another person who believes in the receiver's ability is Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus, who provides a wide range of teams that should be interested:
Andre Roberts is an under-the-radar free agent to keep an eye on. Could be in slot-man market:BAL CAR CLE DET HOU NO NYJ PHI PIT TB WAS— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) January 1, 2014
Although the former Citadel star will never be a true No. 1 target, he can be a big addition to a team looking to augment the passing attack.
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