Available NFL Free Agents Who Can Still Be 2014 Key Contributors
While the initial seismic event and ensuing aftershocks of the NFL free-agent period have come and gone with eyes turning toward next month's draft, there are still many available players who can be key contributors in 2014.
Every year, the free-agent market features bargains in April and beyond, and 2014 is no different. The eight players on this list are proof.
Some of them are former stars in search of past glory, while others must overcome the injury bug in order to play their part. But they share one thing in common: the ability to contribute next season.
Here are eight available NFL free agents who can still be 2014 key contributors.
Former Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson is the highest-profile player on the open market following his release from the club last week.
And while the artist formerly known as CJ2K doesn't appear capable of putting up the kind of monster season that earned him that moniker, there's no question that he can still contribute.
The 28-year-old has declined sharply since rushing for 2,006 yards in 2009. He hasn't broken 1,400 years in the four seasons since, and he averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per carry in 2013. He finished last season ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 42nd-ranked running back.
But he still possesses tantalizing speed and has the ability to break off long runs. Johnson's days as a featured back might be over, but he could fit in nicely in a committee.
For a detailed scouting report on Johnson, check out this piece from Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen.
Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice could be signing a new deal soon.
On Monday, he took to Twitter to announce that he's been cleared for football activities following a knee injury that forced him to miss the Seattle's final eight regular-season games and the run to a Super Bowl title.
And with Rice given the medical green light, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk speculated that it won't be long before he inks a new contract. Florio later added that the Seahawks, Giants, Saints and Panthers have shown interest in the 27-year-old receiver.
Rice has a spotty medical history, having suffered multiple concussions to go along with knee and hip injuries. He's played a full 16 games only twice in his seven seasons.
It's worth noting that in 2012, the last season in which he played a full 16 games, he finished the year as Pro Football Focus' 13th-ranked receiver.
He has terrific size at 6'4" and can definitely still contribute. An incentive-laden one-year deal is likely in his future.
Former Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley is the best remaining player at his position, and there's little question that he can contribute in 2014—provided that he can stay healthy.
Last season, he suffered a frightening neck injury in the team's Week 7 win over the Cleveland Browns and had to undergo spinal fusion surgery as a result.
While his agent Blake Baratz, told Paul Schwartz of the New York Post in February that Finley would be ready for contact in "the coming weeks," Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on March 20 that he's "at least two months away" from signing with a team. ESPN's Josina Anderson recently reported that Finley will have an X-ray and MRI on his neck within the next two weeks.
During his time in Green Bay, Finley flashed undeniable ability but didn't truly put it all together. He never recorded more than 61 catches in a season despite playing in a pass-happy offense with Aaron Rodgers serving as the trigger man.
While it might be too late for the 27-year-old Finley to ascend to the elite stratosphere of tight ends he once seemed destined for, he's still capable of contributing.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote on Sunday that the Dolphins have shown interest in Finley, provided he receives medical clearance.
Former Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin has seemingly fallen off the map, with nary a whisper of reported interest attached to his name following his release last month.
But he is only 29 years old, and when healthy, he can still be a viable contributor. But a series of hamstring injuries since 2011 have, well, hamstrung his career, as he's failed to surpass 1,000 yards receiving since the 2010 campaign. He only caught 24 passes last season.
While ESPN.com's Rich Cimini speculated last month that the Jets would have interest in Austin, that hasn't come to pass.
B/R's Patricia Traina recently wrote that the Giants would make a lot of sense for Austin.
It seems like Super Bowl XLIII was a lifetime ago.
Former Jets receiver Santonio Holmes, then with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was named the MVP of that game, and it was the highlight in what has been a topsy-turvy NFL career.
Now he's a free agent, and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk recently reported that Holmes isn't expected to sign with a new club until after May's NFL draft. It's been nothing short of a precipitous fall from grace for the former star.
The 30-year-old has been limited to only 15 games over the last two seasons and has only recorded 43 catches and two touchdown receptions over that span.
But he's still capable of contributing. For more on why that's the case, check out this piece from B/R's Ty Schalter.
Former Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Anthony Spencer is still on the market, and he looms as a potential difference-maker.
The 30-year-old Spencer missed all but one game last season due to a knee injury, and had microfracture surgery that won't allow him to fully participate in training camp this summer.
But in 2012, he was an absolute beast, recording 11 sacks en route to being hit with the franchise tag by Dallas. He finished that season ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 3-4 outside linebacker.
Spencer represents a low-risk, high-reward option. He'll likely receive a short-term, incentive-laden deal in an effort to see if he can reclaim his past form.
It's not outside the realm of possibility that he could once again dazzle. He represents a worthy roll of the dice for a team in need of pass-rushing acumen.
While he's no longer one of the most feared men in the NFL, former Bengals and Steelers linebacker James Harrison still has effective football left in him.
In an interview last month with SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk), Bengals coach Marvin Lewis had this to say about Harrison's performance with the club last year: "James was a tremendous role model and example of how you play the game. He’s a great man. He did a great job for us this last year. He really helped us immensely, helped us win the division. He made critical plays at critical moments."
The 35-year-old is still a menacing and intimidating force and proved last year that he's capable of contributing at a high level. He's not the pass-rushing demon he once was, but there's definitely a spot on an NFL roster for him.
Don't be shocked if he returns to the Steel City, where he played his first 10 NFL seasons. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote last month that there is a "mutual attraction" between the two sides.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams had quite the career in the Twin Cities, compiling 60 sacks over 11 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
But now, he is on the open market with the acknowledgement that his time in Minnesota has come to an end.
The 33-year-old still has some gas left in the tank, as he accumulated 3.5 sacks last season and finished 2013 as Pro Football Focus' 27th-best defensive tackle.
On Tuesday, Williams is completing a visit with the Giants, per Mark Craig of the Star-Tribune.