NFL Free Agency 2014: Injury-Prone Free Agents Worth the Risk
As the saying goes in football, sometimes the greatest ability is availability.
With that said, injuries are a part of the sport, and unfortunately they're a bigger part of some careers than others.
One thing every player on this list has in common is they all come with significant injury risks. Having conceded some level of risk and the fact that the players here lack in durability, each can still be an incredible addition to the right team for the right price.
Teams looking to add a talented veteran at a discount should consider the names on this slideshow.
Anthony Collins, OT, Cincinnati Bengals
Bleacher Report NFL Featured Columnist Russell S. Baxter makes a great case for Anthony Collins as one of the most underrated free agents of 2014.
Despite the fact that the fourth-round draft pick in 2008 has never played a full 16-game season, Collins is indeed a talented offensive tackle who can be a significant upgrade for a team in need of an experienced left tackle.
When healthy, Collins is a consistent and reliable protector of the quarterback’s blind side. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), not one of Collins’ 15 regular-season games in 2013 graded in the negative. That type of steady play should garner some interest this month on the free-agent market.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
Although Bleacher Report NFL analyst Chris Simms expressed valid concerns about signing the oft-injured Hakeem Nicks to an inflated contract, this guy is still very worthy of a closer look for a team in need of a big-time playmaker on the outside.
Nicks struggled to find the rapport with quarterback Eli Manning that Giants fans had come to expect, as the hampered wideout failed to score a single touchdown.
Despite the lack of a scoring presence during a year when his knees and ankles limited his explosiveness, Nicks still managed to average 16 yards per reception—a figure surpassed by only four wide receivers who had at least as many yards as him, per PFF.
That’s an indication of what type of playmaking we can expect now that Nicks is completely healthy.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Nicks and his agent have sent out letters to all 32 teams from the renowned Dr. Robert Anderson and Dr. James Andrews, assuring all interested parties that his previous foot and knee surgeries should not hamper his performance or career moving forward.
Nicks is highly motivated to prove his doubters wrong and hopes to prove that he’s still an elite receiver in the NFL. To put his money where his mouth is, Mortensen reports that Nicks is willing to accept a one-year “prove it” contract.
Rodger Saffold, OT, St. Louis Rams
He is versatile enough to play multiple positions on the line, and he finished 2013 as Pro Football Focus' 18th-ranked guard.
Despite his talent, youth and versatility, though, Rodger Saffold may have some trouble finding the destination he wants on the open market primarily because he hasn't shown the ability to stay healthy, missing 17 games over the past three seasons.
Saffold can play both right and left tackle, and he can even switch inside to guard.
A team looking for a plus starter who can play nearly every position on the offensive line should consider Saffold—especially when you factor in his youth at 25 years of age.
He has proven he can stay healthy in the past, starting 41 games and appearing in 42 during his time at Indiana University. Perhaps his streak of bad luck will finally come to an end, while the team that took a chance on him can reap the rewards of acquiring a reliable blocker at a discount price.
Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots
Aqib Talib missed three games in 2013 with a nagging injury to his hip and sat out the second half of the AFC Championship Game in each of the last two seasons. The talented corner is in danger of establishing a pattern of breaking down toward the end of the season.
Any team looking to court Talib has to feel comfortable with his injury history considering he’s looking for top-tier dollars for his position.
Last year Talib racked up four picks and was a valuable shutdown corner in New England’s defense. One of his more impressive performances came when the Patriots played the New Orleans Saints, and Talib did the impossible by shutting down the incomparable Jimmy Graham.
At 28 years of age, Talib is still in the prime of his career. If he signs for a reasonable price, he should prove to be a valuable asset for whichever team is willing to dish out the right amount of cash. As much as New England would love to have its best cornerback next year, it looks like the asking price may be steeper than it's willing to pay him.
Dustin Keller, TE, Miami Dolphins
In his first season as a Miami Dolphin, Dustin Keller suffered a gruesome knee injury during a preseason game last year. Now that Keller is a free agent, teams will probably approach him with a great deal of caution, and rightly so.
His blown knee was not the only costly injury to strike Keller in his career. In 2012 he missed half the season with an injured groin and high ankle sprain.
Keller is still in the process of rehabbing his reconstructed ACL and will likely have an adjustment period before he can return to form. However, a healthy Keller is certainly worth the wait. The good news about his current condition is that he should come at a tremendous bargain.
Keep in mind, a healthy Keller back in 2011 posted 815 receiving yards with the Jets, all of which came while catching passes from the lowly Mark Sanchez in a highly dysfunctional offensive system.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
At this point in Darren McFadden’s career, there should be no expectation of receiving a generous contract. McFadden is going to come cheap. This talented running back has never played a 16-game season since entering the NFL in 2008. Run DMC and injury have become synonymous with each other in Oakland, and he’s certainly worn out his welcome with the Silver and Black.
Concerns regarding his durability and diminishing skill sets are valid, but if you can acquire McFadden for cheap as a role player in a rotation, this running back could be able to provide a significant boost to a team's running game as a change-of-pace contributor.
Over the last two seasons, Run DMC has averaged an abysmal 3.3 yards per carry, and he has only surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark one time in his career.
The good news is that for his career McFadden has averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and he is only 26 years old.
It’s possible that a change of scenery could revitalize a career that has been significantly derailed due to a series of nagging injuries.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @Ryan_Riddle
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