The initial rush of NFL free agency may be over, but there are still several high-quality players without contracts who can make instant impacts for their new franchises.
As the NFL shifts more and more toward passing and wide-open offensive play, teams are searching for proven defensive talent in free agency—lest they find themselves unprepared to fend off the Peyton Mannings and Aaron Rodgers of the NFL.
Now that the dust has settled from the first few days of the free-agent frenzy, it is much easier to see where the player supply meets a team's demands. There are several pairings that make perfect sense for both player and franchise alike.
Jared Allen, DE: Dallas Cowboys
Jerry Jones is an owner unafraid of courting star players and their eccentricities. Jared Allen, one of the most fearsome pass-rushers the league has ever seen, would be a welcome addition to the Dallas Cowboys.
Allen is 31 years old and has 128.5 sacks over a 10-year career. He is perhaps the most dominant player left on the market on either side of the ball.
According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Allen has left Dallas without a deal in place:
The Cowboys let another one get out the building without a deal. The Jared Allen visit it over. Went well but no deal so far. Has gone home— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) March 18, 2014
The Cowboys have to find a way to replace the illustrious DeMarcus Ware and his 117 career sacks. Ware's drop-off in production last year means the money earmarked for him could easily be given to Allen.
|Jared Allen vs. Demarcus Ware: 2013 Stats|
|Player||Games||Total Tackles||Sacks||Forced Fumbles|
Expect a sizable payout and triumphant homecoming for the Dallas-born Allen.
Henry Melton, DT: St. Louis Rams
Henry Melton is one of the more intriguing players left on the open market. He is a mammoth tackle who fits the needs of several teams, including the Cowboys, St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots.
Hill reports that Melton has left Dallas for St. Louis without signing on the dotted line:
Melton update: he is headed to visit the St. Louis rams today. Still talking to cowboys and others. But left Dallas visit with no deal— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) March 18, 2014
At 27 years old, Melton is just entering his prime and may be able to command a strong deal despite having just 15.5 career sacks.
The Rams do have the second overall pick in this year's draft and could go with Jadeveon Clowney at that spot to shore up the defensive line.
However, Melton would be an excellent inside presence to complement the quarterback-hounding prowess of Robert Quinn and Chris Long on the edges of the defensive line.
Antonio Cromartie, CB: New York Jets
Now that ESPN.com has reported that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has signed with the New York Giants, Antonio Cromartie is arguably the best cornerback available on the open market.
Considering the Jets are thin at that position and haven't made any moves there so far, their best option is to bring Cromartie back into the fold.
However, Brian Costello of the New York Post suggests that the Jets may not be making a big push for him:
League source on Jets: "Don't count on them getting Cromartie. They're not being very aggressive." #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) March 18, 2014
Despite that news, the Jets have operated slowly throughout the duration of the free-agency period. Cromartie is a three-time Pro Bowler and knows Rex Ryan's aggressive defensive schemes better than any corner available.
For a team looking for a dark-horse playoff push, the Jets would be wise to bring him back into the fold.
And who wouldn't want to see the Cromartie cousins battle it out to be the best cornerback in the Big Apple?
Shaun Phillips, DE/LB: New England Patriots
Behind Allen and Phillips, the pass-rushing market is paper-thin. This makes Phillips' prospects fairly wide-open, as every team has to find a way to disrupt quarterbacks in a league defined by aerial assaults.
Phillips accepted a one-year, $1 million dollar deal with the Denver Broncos and came within one game of winning a Super Bowl in 2013. He is in position to accept another short-term deal for a crack at Super Bowl glory.
Bill Belichick has already signed Darrelle Revis to a one-year contract and could certainly add Phillips with a similar low-risk, high-reward deal.
With Phillips rotating with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich at defensive end, the Patriots could make the perfect veteran move to instantly shore up 2013's 18th-ranked pass defense.