NFL Free Agents 2014: Top 20 Players Still Available on the Open Market
If there is a silver lining to the leftovers on the free-agent market, it has to be the relative affordability of the pieces remaining—not including the tagged players like tight end Jimmy Graham, edge defender Brian Orakpo and center Alex Mack, of course.
That premium trio would lead the top 20 players still available in what has been a bountiful free-agent period this month. There are some useful options out there, but most of them come with injury or age question marks.
Teams are weighing the cost and benefits of the injury-risk veterans now—save for Knowshon Moreno, who is neither old nor injured (surprisingly); he just plays a position (running back) that is no longer valued by NFL decision-makers.
We analyze cost and benefit in ranking what is left from 20 to one in the slides ahead.
20. James Harrison, Linebacker
James Harrison never quite fit in with the Cincinnati Bengals and is back on the free-agent market again at the advanced age of 35 (he turns 36 in May). Perhaps a return to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a veteran backup is the ideal thing for him.
Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the Steelers might be interested in bringing Harrison back in the coming weeks.
In the right role, Harrison could contribute some tackles, sacks and leadership for the less-experienced Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones now that LaMarr Woodley, 29, has signed with the Oakland Raiders.
19. Owen Daniels, Tight End
Former Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels is coming off another injury-plagued year and hasn't played a 16-game season since 2008, but there is still interest out there for the 31-year-old pass-catcher.
According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun on Twitter, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said Daniels is in the conversation as a possible free-agent addition at tight end.
Limited to just five games in 2013, Daniels would represent a nice upgrade for any team short of a tight end. The Seattle Seahawks, Ravens and New York Giants are three of the best potential landing spots. Someone could really get a steal here if he somehow proves healthy next season.
18. Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back
We have to admit, Maurice Jones-Drew looked finished as a feature back at age 28 a year ago. Recent interest has earned him a trip up to the top 20 remaining free agents, though.
Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports four teams, including the New York Jets, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers, remain interested in MJD.
The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero refuted the Dolphins piece of that report via Twitter, though.
Where there is smoke, there is fire, so we will give Jones-Drew the benefit of the doubt here. He can be a serviceable veteran backup in the right situation.
17. Miles Austin, Wide Receiver
Not yet 30, Miles Austin was a victim of his contract and his seemingly endless health issues with the Dallas Cowboys. Still, a rebound year could be possible for a player who was once a 1,300-yard, 10-touchdown receiver (2009).
A receiver-needy team like the New York Jets—Austin has a face and name for Manhattan—or the Carolina Panthers could take a cheap flier here. They just need to take the leap of faith that Austin will stay healthy after a dismal 2013 campaign (24 receptions for 244 yards and no touchdowns in 11 injury-plagued games).
16. Anthony Spencer, 4-3 Defensive End or 3-4 Outside Linebacker
Anthony Spencer's 11 sacks in 14 games in 2012 put him in line for a huge contract year. Instead, he required microfracture surgery and isn't expected to be ready for training camp, according to ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer.
A team taking a chance on him could have a productive edge-rusher by season's end, perhaps. It will just require some patience and rolling of the dice.
Regardless of the health concerns, Pro Football Focus rates Spencer as the top edge defender remaining on the market.
15. Jermichael Finley, Tight End
Jermichael Finley isn't quite ready to sign a contract at this point, coming off a Nov. 14 surgery to perform a cervical fusion in his neck. The tight end is no longer considering retirement, but the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Dougherty reports a potential deal with the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks was nixed by a failed physical.
Dougherty cited some former players who have tried to come back from a similar procedure:
For a recovery comparison, Packers safety Sean Richardson underwent fusion surgery on his C-5/C-6 vertebrae in January 2013 and wasn't cleared by the Packers' medical staff until mid-November, 10 months later. Former Houston Texans running back Steve Slaton had neck fusion surgery in January 2010 and wasn't cleared until the start of training camp 6½ months later.
Finley still has some healing, and waiting, to do. If healthy, he would be a huge coup for anyone. If not for the injury, he would be a top-10, or perhaps even top-five, player on this list.
14. Sidney Rice, Wide Receiver
The 27-year-old Sidney Rice is a long shot to ever get back to his 2009 level (1,312 yards and eight touchdowns), but he is still a relatively young and cheap option for a team desperate for a wide receiver. Carolina Panthers, hello!
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported March 17 that the Jets, Saints and Seahawks have their eyes on Rice.
The question is always health with him. USA Today's Tom Pelissero reports he will at least be healthy enough soon to showcase himself to teams.
13. Kenny Britt, Wide Receiver
Kenny Britt might have been ostracized in Tennessee, but he is still just 25 and is one more season removed from reconstructive knee surgery. He has visited with a number of teams and might have a decision to make between being a No. 1 somewhere like Carolina or trying to fit in with a team with a number of potential starters, like the New England Patriots.
Britt told ESPN.com NFL Nation reporter Mike Rodak of his recent visit to Foxborough, Mass., according to ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss:
It was actually better than I thought it was. A lot of guys, a lot of people out there that don’t know or been on the inside or think it’s strict and things like that, but it’s laid back when I got there. They got good people there. I actually worked out for them. The workout went great. I had a good time.
12. Robert Ayers, Defensive End
Robert Ayers, a former first-round pick, is just 28 and coming off a career-high 5.5 sacks. That is a low total at this stage of a career for someone with that lofty draft position, though.
Still, Ayers should find a home somewhere as a situational pass-rusher. Every team in the NFL needs another one of those. He could pick his spot if he wanted to lower his price.
11. LeGarrette Blount, Running Back
LeGarrette Blount was arguably the New England Patriots' most valuable player down the stretch of last season, but that still doesn't give him much value in this NFL. Running backs are just a dime a dozen.
Blount will make a trip to Pittsburgh this week, per The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson, but he would merely be a backup to feature back Le'Veon Bell.
10. Thomas DeCoud, Free Safety
If you thought the Atlanta Falcons' 2013 season was bad, check out Thomas DeCoud's minus-16.0 rating at Pro Football Focus. Perhaps their awful years go hand in hand.
Still, DeCoud was a Pro Bowl safety in 2012 and still could have something left in the tank at age 29. A rebound year would make him a bargain at this point.
9. Santonio Holmes, Wide Receiver
They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Well, the jury is still out on 30-year-old wide receiver Santonio Holmes. He couldn't cut it in New York.
If he and his agent were wise, they would get the cap-strapped, receiver-needy Carolina Panthers on the horn and hammer out an incentive-laden one-year deal. Say what you will about Holmes, but he would instantly rise to the top of the Panthers' depth chart and be a go-to option for a franchise quarterback in Cam Newton.
8. Carlos Rogers, Cornerback
Carlos Rogers has been a productive player for years, but his age, 32, has left him dangling on the free-agent market for a long time. Perhaps the New York Jets, who have the second-most cap space in the NFL, according to Spotrac, and are desperate for a cornerback, can be a fit for him.
7. Chris Clemons, Free Safety
The Miami Dolphins' Chris Clemons has seen this song and dance before, but he wound up re-signing in South Florida only to have a better year.
Perhaps the good news is many of the league's other top free-agent safeties have already locked up big contracts elsewhere. That leaves Clemons in a position of leverage, at least.
The fact that he keeps hawking his services might be dropping his value. Still, he was Pro Football Focus' ninth-ranked safety in pass coverage. That ought to be worth something in this pass-happy NFL.
6. Travelle Wharton, Guard
If free agency was just about football performance, Carolina Panthers guard Travelle Wharton would have been snatched up a long time ago. It is about numbers, and the important one in Wharton's case is 33. That is the age he will be next season.
That is a lot of years for a big, old offensive guard. Wharton has also had a reconstructive knee surgery to overcome.
Still, Pro Football Focus rates Wharton as the best guard remaining on the market by a wide margin.
5. Shaun Phillips, Defensive End
It has long been said that the difference between winning and losing the Super Bowl is the widest range of fortune in sports. Tell that to defensive end Shaun Phillips.
If his Denver Broncos had beaten the Seattle Seahawks, he might have been signed like fellow pass-rusher Michael Bennett has been.
Still, Phillips is a way to add a double-digit sack guy to your pass rush. Usually, those aren't this easy to come by.
4. Brian De La Puente, New Orleans Saints
You would think Brian De La Puente would have been a high priority for teams, but he remains a premium center on the open market.
Pro Football Focus rated him the second-best center available going into free agency, but perhaps his poor grades on the run have made teams cautious. Regardless, this is a passing league, and PFF rates him highly in that area. De La Puente should still find a number of teams willing to meet his asking price.
3. Knowshon Moreno, Running Back
You would think a career-high 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns would make your first free-agent foray a bonanza. Not at running back. This is not your father's NFL.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, one general manager commented on free-agent running backs, saying, "That position needs its own union. We treat our equipment people better than we treat our running backs."
The good news for Moreno is his former team might be in the mix once again, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen. That at least gives him one more option.
2. Jared Allen, Defensive End
It is surprising that Jared Allen remains available on the open market, especially in this pass-happy league. Allen is just 31 and has 128.5 career sacks on his resume.
Perhaps the veteran pass-rusher just has too many options to weigh, including retirement. Or maybe he is seeking too much money.
Regardless, as the days tick down toward the draft, Allen should have any number of suitors wanting to add him if his contract demands come down from the $10 million-per-year range.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told SiriusXM radio at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., as Clare Farnsworth of his team's official website reports:
It's a big business decision for him. There's really not much to comment about it right now. We're very restricted in what we can do. We have a lot of work to get done here on our roster, a lot of guys we've got to work with. We're excited about extending and stuff like that. So we have a lot of concerns and can't move as swiftly as everyone would like.
1. Alex Mack, Center
Unlike the franchise-tagged players in this NFL, Alex Mack was merely slapped with the transition tag by the Cleveland Browns. That means the Browns won't get any draft-pick compensation, but they still retain the right to re-sign Mack by merely matching any offer he gets on the open market.
Considering the Browns have the most salary-cap space available in the NFL right now, according to Spotrac, a departure remains highly unlikely. The Ravens reportedly have a "high opinion" of Mack, per The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson, but his price seems to be keeping them away.
General manager Ray Farmer told a group of reporters at the NFL annual meeting in Orlando on Monday night, according to The Plain Dealer's Tom Reed:
Alex is well within his rights to do the things that he thinks are necessary moving forward. We're still committed to making sure he's a long-term Brown, and that's really our focus. ... I'm very confident (it can happen). It's the continued interaction, the continued support, the continued vibe that we're giving Alex that will inevitably prevail.