As the free-agent signing period continues to wear on, the pool of impact players is seemingly shrinking. That may look like the case on the surface, but the depth of this year's class should make for some interesting signings moving forward.
Contracts usually get cheaper and more reasonable after the initial wave of signings, and that often leads to some big-time steals for teams that show patience. Not every inconspicuous signing is going to pay huge dividends; however, a handful of them certainly should.
Here are three free agents who haven't received much publicity yet but who will ultimately make the teams that decide to sign them look brilliant.
It wasn't long ago that Ed Dickson looked like a rising star at the tight end position, but his stock has dropped off considerably over the past couple seasons. Dickson was a high-upside pick by the Baltimore Ravens in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft out of Oregon, and he looked like one of the draft's biggest steals by 2011.
He quickly developed into one of quarterback Joe Flacco's go-to targets in short-yardage situations, catching 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns in his second NFL season. Dickson hasn't been able to match 528 yards total over the past two campaigns, though, and there are now major questions regarding whether or not he is capable of being a starting NFL tight end.
Dickson was hurt by the emergence of Dennis Pitta in 2012, but even with Pitta out of action for much of the 2013 season, he failed to reestablish himself. Dallas Clark was a preferred option for Flacco, and Dickson essentially became a forgotten man. With Pitta back in the fold, a return to Baltimore is highly unlikely for Dickson.
A change of scenery is likely the best thing for him at this point. Even with all of his recent struggles, he is garnering plenty of interest on the open market, according to Matt Zenitz of the Carroll County Times:
No deal is imminent, but several teams have expressed interest in TE Ed Dickson, per a source— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) March 11, 2014
Per Brian Costello of the New York Post, the tight end-starved New York Jets are among those teams:
Jets interested in Ravens TE Ed Dickson, according to a source. #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) March 10, 2014
Although New York's quarterback situation is murky with Geno Smith, that would be a solid fit for Dickson since he would probably receive starting reps. He is a great athlete who is just 26 years old, so it stands to reason that he has plenty of untapped potential.
If Dickson is able to turn that potential into production, then the sky is the limit.
In terms of on-field production, defensive lineman Alex Carrington doesn't really register on the radar as far as most fans are concerned. The 300-pound Arkansas State product was a third-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2010, and while he has yet to enjoy a true breakout season, it is blatantly obvious that he is ready to take the next step.
Carrington may have finally come to the forefront in 2013, but a knee injury cost him all but three games. There is inherent risk involved with investing in a big man with knee issues, but his potential is so great that he is worth it.
Perhaps the biggest thing working in Carrington's favor is the fact that he's versatile. He is both big and athletic, so he can play every position along the defensive line in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, and he has even played some linebacker.
Because of that, it should come as no surprise that Carrington has already had a fruitful visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport:
DL Alex Carrington had good visit with #Steelers today, taking and passing a physical. Both sides will continue to talk, per source.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 15, 2014
Also, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that the Cleveland Browns are an option since former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is now Cleveland's head coach:
Rams showing interest in Bills DL Alex Carrington as depth pickup; more likely destination is Cleveland where former Bills DC Pettine is HC.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 12, 2014
As much as the Bills might like to have him back, that may not be in the cards. Carrington's girlfriend, Cheri Bridges, recently indicated on Twitter that he is likely to sign elsewhere:
Whichever team ultimately signs Carrington, it will be getting a do-everything lineman who has yet to reach his peak. He is even a star on special teams with six career blocked kicks, so some organization is going to get its money's worth.
The view on running backs in the NFL has changed significantly over the past few years. While running the ball is still an important part of winning football games, the belief is that big money shouldn't be spent on that position. Excellent running backs are routinely found in the mid-to-late rounds of the NFL draft, and some of them even manage to go undrafted.
Which player will be the best free-agent signing?
Andre Brown was a fourth-round pick by the New York Giants in 2009, and he has been on a wild ride since then. He spent parts of the 2010 season with the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins before returning to the G-Men in 2011.
Brown then went on to become a key change-of-pace back for the Giants in 2012, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and scoring eight touchdowns. Big expectations were placed on him entering 2013, but a broken leg forced him to miss half the season.
Although Brown's yards-per-tote average dipped to 3.5 upon his return, he helped turn the Giants' season around. His 492 yards put him on pace for just under 1,000 extrapolated over an entire season, and his presence was a big reason why the Giants finished 5-3 after starting the year 0-6.
While a return to New York could be a good move for both parties, Rapoport is reporting that the Oakland Raiders have shown some interest in Brown.
He could potentially be a good complement to Darren McFadden because of his 224-pound frame and power running style. Also, with McFadden's injury history, a starting role isn't out of the question.
Brown isn't being talked up much since running backs are viewed as dime-a-dozen commodities, but he is a player who can make a very positive impact wherever he lands.
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