Unsigned NFL Free Agents Who Can Help a Super Bowl Contender in 2014
The surefire starters among the free-agent options have all dried up for teams, particularly contenders that are looking for that final piece to the puzzle, but that doesn't mean potential contributors don't exist.
Contending teams can still find useful depth on the picked-over open market as long as they can take on the injury risk of some former NFL stars. Has-beens and injured players, like pass-rusher Anthony Spencer and tight end Jermichael Finley, comprise the best of the rest that are still available this offseason.
The NFL draft is less than two weeks away, so the 10 free agents in this slideshow—unsigned free agents who can help a contender in 2014—will likely have to wait until teams attempt to fill their holes from the collegiate pool. Every franchise won't be able to solve all their issues with the draft, so these folks are going to find some more significant interest come mid-May.
Let's take a look at whom is still out there right now.
Outside Linebacker Anthony Spencer
If Anthony Spencer wasn't coming off microfracture surgery, he would have been signed by now...perhaps to some rather large figures. The 30-year-old edge-rusher missed almost all of the 2013 season after posting a career-high 11 sacks in 2012.
Because he had most of last season and this offseason to heal, his agent, Jordan Woy, says Spencer is expected to be ready for the start of training camp, telling David Moore of the Dallas Morning News:
Structurally he is sound. Now he is building the strength back and conditioning to get ready for the season. He would be very limited in OTA's, but from what the doctors are telling us, he should be ready to go by preseason and regular season.
Spencer could be a candidate to return to the Dallas Cowboys, but a team like the San Francisco 49ers might be interested in throwing their hat into the ring amid Aldon Smith's current legal woes, which are chronicled here by Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
Tight End Jermichael Finley
Jermichael Finley is another Pro Bowl-caliber talent on the market, not because of a lack of interest, but a lack of health. He failed a physical with the Seattle Seahawks in March, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Dougherty.
The 27-year-old tight end, who is arguably one of the best players at his position when healthy, is coming off a career-threatening neck surgery. He is determined to play again, tweeting Thursday: "No Giving Up!"
When the NFL released the official schedule this week, Finley might have tipped his hand on the contenders he will be choosing between once he is healthy enough to pass a physical. He tweeted Wednesday night: "Packers @ Seattle. Wow!"
Defensive Tackle Kevin Williams
Former Minnesota Viking Kevin Williams has been a steady defensive tackle for more than a decade, but at 33 years old, he remains available on the open market. The New York Giants are the only known team to have brought him in, and he left without a contract earlier this month, according to Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The lack of interest is surprising for a defensive tackle who was ranked 27th overall last season by Pro Football Focus' ratings (subscription required). He graded out equally effective as the Seattle Seahawks' Clinton McDonald, who earned a four-year, $12 million deal with $4.75 million guaranteed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to Spotrac.com.
Neither Williams' performance nor his health has declined too much in recent years, but his age likely slots him as rotational depth for a contender's defensive line. A contender can also use another able body for depth like Williams.
Guard Travelle Wharton
Travelle Wharton, 32, is coming off a career year with the Carolina Panthers. He ranked as the fifth-best guard overall, according to Pro Football Focus' ratings.
The question is not whether teams would want him or could use him. It is whether he wants to play. He is leaning toward retirement, according to an April tweet from Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer.
Since he is coming off a productive year and is still a reasonable age, Wharton is a candidate to sign somewhere—be it back with the Panthers or perhaps a place like Miami.
Cornerback Terrell Thomas
Terrell Thomas is coming off a bad year with the New York Giants—ranking outside of the top 50 cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus' ratings—but he finally proved he could play a 16-game season after missing both 2011 and 2012 to back-to-back major knee reconstructions.
He will still be on the right side of 30 next season, and this is still a pass-happy league. Every team in the NFL could use another veteran cover man for the secondary.
Thomas might not be a viable starter any longer, but he can contribute on a contender as a nickel or dime back.
Center Jonathan Goodwin
Former San Francisco 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin might be 35 years old, but he isn't ready to hang it up. Who would after ranking as a top 15 center a year ago, according to Pro Football Focus' ratings?
He helped anchor one of the best offensive lines the past few seasons and has drawn interest from the New Orleans Saints, as reported by ESPN.com's Mike Triplett.
Goodwin could be a nice fit there or perhaps with a run-oriented team like the Baltimore Ravens. Goodwin earned the seventh-best run-blocking rating among centers, according to PFF. Some contender will capitalize on his experience and leadership.
Offensive Tackle Eric Winston
Eric Winston has seen better days. The 30-year-old right tackle graded out 121st among 128 qualifiers last season in Pro Football Focus' ratings.
Still, he is an offensive tackle with a resume, which gives him value in this league.
Winston, who ranked 26th at PFF in 2012, can have a bounce-back year. Every contender in football could use a backup tackle of his ilk.
Tight End Dustin Keller
Dustin Keller's 2013 season was over before it began with the Miami Dolphins, but the 29-year-old still should have something to give a team that is in need of a pass-catching tight end. First, he has to prove healthy coming off major reconstructive knee surgery.
He will have more than enough recovery time from his August surgery, even if he hasn't quite been ready to audition for teams.
Jordan Raanan of NJ.com tweets that Keller is "good to go," per his agent. Expect him to start making the rounds after the draft, particularly for tight end-needy contenders like the New England Patriots and the loser of the Jermichael Finley bidding war.
Inside Linebacker Pat Angerer
Like the aforementioned Anthony Spencer, linebacker Pat Angerer is coming off microfracture knee surgery, a procedure that requires ample time to heal. Fox Sports' Alex Marvez tweets Angerer is still weeks, if not months, away from being able to work out for teams.
Time is still on his side. He is just 27 years old, and a contender could take a chance on the one-time playmaker this summer, stashing him on the PUP list until midseason. If he cannot get healthy, Angerer could sit out the entire season and come back stronger in 2015.
Guard Richie Incognito
OK, our 10th and final player in this slideshow requires a significant leap of faith. Richie Incognito is an effective run-game mauler for the same reason he is still on the free market: He has a loose screw or two.
The likelihood of a contender signing the troubled veteran guard is slim right now, but desperate times can call for desperate measures when the 2014 season nears.
He can still play, if he can just keep his personal demons in check. He was a top-25-rated guard, according to Pro Football Focus, despite being limited to eight games before being released amid the Jonathan Martin hazing fiasco.
If not for the psychological red flags, Incognito, 30, would still be considered a starter in this league. He clearly has his warts like the rest of the remaining free agents.
These free-agent leftovers might have to wait awhile for teams to draft and evaluate what they have through OTAs.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.
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