2014 NFL Free Agency: Best Players Available at Each Position After Day 2
The 2014 NFL free-agency period has been fun to watch so far. After two days and a host of signings, there still are many solid starters who are ripe for the picking to the highest bidder.
A few big-name signings from a rather insane Day 2 were:
- OLB DeMarcus Ware (Broncos)
- CB Darrelle Revis (Patriots)
- WR Golden Tate (Lions)
- WR Eric Decker (Jets)
As of the publishing of this article, 27 of the top 50 free agents, according to CBS Sports, were still available—including four of the top 20. That's five players if you include New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who technically is still a free agent (a team would have to cough up two first-round picks to get him, though, and that’s not happening).
Who’s still available for your team to sign?
Michael Vick (Eagles)
In a weak free-agent quarterback class, former Philadelphia Eagles front-man Michael Vick is the biggest name available. He may still have the arm to compete for a starting job somewhere, but a team would have to be desperate to give him starting dibs.
The problem that continues to plague him is his frailty; he missed nine games in 2013 after an injury sidelined him (before Nick Foles burst onto the scene and took his job), and he’s played all 16 games just once during his 11-year NFL career.
Career Status: Backup with fill-in starter potential
Possible Fits: Bears, Jets, Rams, Raiders
Josh Freeman (Vikings)
If put in a situation to succeed, Josh Freeman could have a successful NFL career. He did not have that opportunity for long in Tampa, and he was thrown into the fire in Minnesota and failed miserably. He needs a good team around him to succeed, and neither of his two employers was set up to win.
He has plenty of arm to make all the throws that an NFL quarterback should make, but his accuracy is a concern at this point. He completed 42.9 percent of his passes between the Bucs and Vikings in 2013 while throwing two touchdowns and four interceptions in four games. He went 0-4 as a starter.
Career Status: Backup with starter potential (needs work with mechanics)
Possible Fits: Browns, Jaguars, Rams, Titans
Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars)
Since entering the league in 2006, only four running backs have more carries (playoffs included) than Maurice Jones-Drew, according to Pro Football Reference. In that same time, only Adrian Peterson (91) and LaDainian Tomlinson (79) have more rushing touchdowns (playoffs included) than Jones-Drew (69).
He has been a productive and consistent back in eight seasons, but he has played on some bad Jaguars teams of late and has seen his production suffer over the past two seasons. He missed 10 games with a Lisfranc injury in 2012 and rushed for only 803 yards on 234 carries (3.4 yards per carry) last season.
He tallied those numbers after a three-year period when he averaged 1,440 yards and nine touchdowns per season, including leading the NFL with 1,606 yards in 2011 as an All-Pro selection.
Career Status: Starter potential with ability to split time with younger, sprier back
Possible Fits: Bears, Browns, Packers, Raiders, Texans
Ben Tate (Texans)
A former second-round pick out of Auburn, Ben Tate had the pleasure of running behind one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league with the Texans. The downside—and upside, depending on how you look at it—was that of 40 games played, he started only nine as Arian Foster’s backup.
Tate should be set for a decent payday, and when he gets where he’s going via free agency, he will start for the foreseeable future. He’s a talent and a threat to any defense, as shown by his respectable 5.33 carries per missed tackle forced in his career. (Foster has averaged 11.74 carries per missed tackle forced.)
Career Status: Starter with bell-cow back potential
Possible Fits: Browns, Falcons, Jets, Giants
James Jones (Packers)
A nice stretch with one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL came to a disappointing end in 2013. James Jones caught 31 touchdown passes from 2009 to 2012, including leading the league with 14 that final season. But in 2013, Jones and the Packers struggled without Aaron Rodgers, who missed a chunk of the season after breaking his collar bone on Monday Night Football against the NFC North-rival Bears.
Jones may have seen his next contract take a hit when he failed to produce without Rodgers last season. But with speculation rampant that the salary cap could balloon another $10-plus million next offseason, he may look for a one-year deal to play with a contender that has a stable quarterback situation to boost his 2015 asking price.
Career Status: No. 2 receiver; lacks No. 1 “star” potential
Possible Fits: Panthers, Patriots, Seahawks, Steelers
Julian Edelman (Patriots)
Another product of great quarterbacking, Julian Edelman also benefited from the absence of Wes Welker in 2013. From 2009 to 2012, Edelman had 69 receptions for 714 yards (10.3 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Last season as Tom Brady’s primary target, he went for 105 receptions, 1,056 yards (10.1 YPC) and six scores, running nearly half his routes from the slot.
He was most notably a punt returner before getting a real chance at receiver, but he proved he has the ability to get open with one of the best-ever quarterbacks throwing passes his way. It will be interesting to see how he fits with his new team—assuming New England doesn’t bring him back.
Career Status: No. 3 receiver with starter potential (as No. 2)
Possible Fits: Buccaneers, Chiefs, Colts, Saints
Jermichael Finley (Packers)
A serious neck injury ended Jermichael Finley’s 2013 season after just five games, and he has yet to be medically cleared to play. But it won’t take a team long to sign him once he is cleared; he is among the more athletic and promising tight ends in the league despite never living up to his potential in Green Bay.
If he comes back in 2014 fully healthy and ready to go, his signing team will be better on offense. He has the ability to be a game-breaker, but with the neck injury, it’s not certain whether he ever will be. Jason La Canfora believes he knows Finley’s next destination:
Reported a while back Jermichael Finley on Seattle's radar, endgame likely a reunion w/John Schneider on shortterm deal. He'll visit SEA 1st— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 11, 2014
Career Status: Starting tight end and H-back potential; versatile because of athleticism
Possible Fits: Falcons, Giants, Seahawks, Texans
Brandon Pettigrew (Lions)
Coming out of Oklahoma State as a first-round pick, Brandon Pettigrew was supposed to be the next big thing at tight end. But after five disappointing seasons in Detroit, he could be lucky to get middle-of-the-pack money as far as tight ends are concerned.
He is a decent pass-blocker, so he has that going for him. Dropped passes are a concern, however. His career 8.70 percent drop rate is way too high. He has finished with a top-five drop rate in three of his five seasons, including second in 2009 (16.67 percent) and third in 2010 (14.46 percent).
Career Status: Starting tight end; No. 2 in two-TE-heavy offense
Possible Fits: Bears, Dolphins, Jaguars, Patriots
Anthony Collins (Bengals)
The underrated Anthony Collins is available but probably not for much longer. In case you missed it late Wednesday night, offensive tackle/guard Rodger Saffold failed his physical with the Raiders and is now back with the Rams on a five-year deal, according to Chris Burke of SI.com.
Oakland could turn around and scoop up Collins, who is a better player than Saffold anyway; or, the Raiders could wait to take a tackle in the draft.
Collins is the only offensive tackle since 2007 to play at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in a season and not allow a single sack or quarterback hit. He did so last season while starting eight games for Cincinnati.
Career Status: Future star at left tackle
Possible Fits: Bengals, Buccaneers, Raiders, Panthers
(UPDATE: Collins has signed a five-year deal worth $30 million with Tampa Bay, according to Will Brinson of CBS Sports.)
Zach Strief (Saints)
A seventh-round pick of New Orleans in 2006, right tackle Zach Strief didn’t become a full-time player until 2011. He has steadily improved ever since and last season topped all right tackles with a 5.10 pressure percentage (a stat I compiled using PFF stats already available).
His age could be what’s holding teams back from pulling the trigger on signing him to a long-term deal. But despite the fact that he will turn 31 on Sept. 22, he is a low-mileage tackle with a lot of tread still left on the tires. He will be a good signing for a tackle-needy team.
Career Status: Solid starter on the right side
Possible Fits: Cardinals, Lions, Dolphins, Ravens
Daryn Colledge (Cardinals)
He may not be an elite player, but veteran Daryn Colledge is consistent and durable. After signing a three-year free-agency deal with the Cardinals following five years in Green Bay, he started every game for Arizona—even playing part of last season with a fractured leg, according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com.
He’s soon to be 33, so the market could be thin for Colledge. That means he could be around on the market for a while. But he’s a team-first guy who plays hard and is a locker-room leader. He will land on his feet somewhere at some point.
Career Status: Starting left guard for a guard-desperate team
Possible Fits: Browns, Panthers, Rams, Seahawks
Willie Colon (Jets)
A former fourth-round pick of the Steelers, Willie Colon spent the 2013 season with the Jets and proved he can still pass block with the best of them. He will be 32 before the NFL draft, and like Colledge, he still has some gas left in the tank.
One thing to note on Colon is that he’s recovering from a Week 17 biceps tear. However, he should be “good to go by training camp,” according to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com.
Career Status: Starter at either guard spot for at least another season
Possible Fits: Browns, Dolphins, Jets, Panthers
Brian De La Puente (Saints)
Drew Brees’ center for the past three seasons, Brian De La Puente has emerged as one of the best in the business—he’s a true leader on the field. An undrafted free agent out of Cal in 2008, he labored for four years before earning significant playing time. Now that he’s here, he’s not going anywhere.
Except for a new team, potentially.
Career Status: Lock him up as a starting center
Possible Fits: Giants, Jaguars, Patriots, Ravens
Henry Melton (Bears)
2012 Pro Bowler Henry Melton missed 13 games in 2013 with a torn ACL. The injury likely cost him big money on the market, but at only 27, he could have enough in him to earn two sizable contracts.
A former running back at the University of Texas, Melton is quick and nimble when rushing the quarterback—he’s a natural athlete who happens to weigh about a biscuit short of 300 pounds.
Career Status: Starter at DT1 for the next five-plus seasons
Possible Fits: Cowboys, Raiders, Rams, Vikings
B.J. Raji (Packers)
It’s for the best that former top-10 pick B.J. Raji gets a fresh start with a new team. He was stuck two-gapping as Green Bay’s nose tackle in its 3-4 scheme, when he is at his best as a one-gap pass-rusher in a 4-3.
That should narrow his choices down, if he chooses to make some money by sacking the quarterback instead of setting up linebackers for the sack.
Career Status: Future monster as a one-gapping DT
Possible Fits: Bears, Giants, Jaguars, Titans
Jared Allen (Vikings)
Five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro Jared Allen has 128.5 sacks, which is second-most among active players; he’s behind only John Abraham (133.5) for the lead. Allen will join his third team in his 11th NFL season after spending four seasons with the Chiefs as a fourth-round pick and six as the leader of the Vikings defense.
He is in such shape that even at 32, he could potentially be productive for another three seasons or more. He has a chance to set an NFL record if he keeps his current streak of seasons with at least 10 sacks alive. He has seven such campaigns in a row, and with another in 2014, he will tie Hall of Famer John Randle for second all time.
If he gets to nine, he will tie Hall of Famer Reggie White for the most all time.
Three more seasons of production would lock him up as a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Career Status: Productive defensive right end
Possible Fits: Bears, Giants, Lions, Seahawks
Chris Clemons (Seahawks)
Chris Clemons’ career started well enough for a former undrafted free agent. He tallied 20 sacks in five seasons with the Redskins, Raiders and Eagles with five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries from 2004 to 2009. But in 2010, the Eagles traded him and a fourth-round pick to Seattle for outside linebacker Darryl Tapp.
Clemons exploded for 33.5 sacks over the next three seasons while forcing seven fumbles and batting away 13 passes. But despite him earning a Super Bowl ring with the Seahawks, his 2013 season did not go as well as he would have hoped, and therefore he was released Tuesday, according to Albert Breer.
The Seahawks have released DE Chris Clemons, per source.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 12, 2014
He could still have some value but not likely much.
Career Status: Rotational defensive end for obvious passing situations
Possible Fits: Bengals, Falcons, Rams, Titans
LaMarr Woodley (Steelers)
A 2007 second-round pick out of Michigan, LaMarr Woodley had a productive first five years with the Steelers. But he hasn’t been a full-time player since the 2010 season and is being replaced by Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones.
He can still be productive as a 3-4 rush linebacker, and he is adequate in coverage. Plus, at 29 years old, he could have up to five or more years left in him.
Career Status: Starting 3-4 OLB on right team
Possible Fits: Browns, Cardinals, Colts, Saints
Brandon Spikes (Patriots)
The falling out in New England between Brandon Spikes and the Patriots is over, and if he wants to be a key player, he can be. But that’s the question: Does he want to be a hard-working veteran leader of a locker room, or does he want to ride the pine as a vet-minimum-earning slouch with no motivation who just skates by from week to week until he’s finally cut for the last time?
He has to make this decision in a hurry.
Career Status: Perennial Pro Bowl inside linebacker if he wants to be
Possible Fits: Packers, Ravens, Saints, Texans
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Broncos)
Remember when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a feared corner? No? DRC picked off 13 passes during his first two seasons with the Cardinals (playoffs included), which tied an Arizona franchise record for most in the first two years of a career. He also allowed 17 touchdowns those first two seasons. He was burned deep a lot because he took too many chances.
These days, he doesn’t do much diving in on routes, but he does cover well. No one will ever mistake him for a physical tackler, but as a pure cover corner, he is one of the best.
Career Status: No. 2 cornerback; can cover No. 1 receivers
Possible Fits: Cardinals, Lions, Panthers, Raiders
Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers)
Interesting stat: Captain Munnerlyn has picked off four passes the past two seasons, and he’s run all four back for a touchdown. The four-year pro is above-average in coverage, but where he shines is in helping with run defense. He’s not big—5’8”, 186 pounds—but he’s physical and smart.
In a way, he and Cardinals 2013 third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu are very similar. Both are small, tenacious defensive backs with a will to gain an advantage on the football field. Their love of the game oozes out every Sunday, and for Munnerlyn, it could mean a nice payday sometime very soon.
Career Status: No. 2 cornerback potential, slot for now
Possible Fits: Lions, Eagles, Jets, Texans
James Ihedigbo (Ravens)
A bit of a journeyman, James Ihedigbo will be with his fourth team in his seventh NFL season if the Ravens don’t re-sign him. He didn’t play a lot in his first three seasons, but he took over the starting strong safety role that was left vacant by Bernard Pollard last year, and he played really well.
PFF ranked him second against the run behind only T.J. Ward, formerly of the Browns and currently of the Broncos. Ihedigbo also picked off three passes in 2013 while allowing only one touchdown in coverage. He’s 30, but that should not mean much because of his few games played (only 85 with 31 starts in six seasons).
Career Status: Starting strong safety; plug him in and leave him alone
Possible Fits: Bears, Cardinals, Rams, Redskins