Surveying Remaining NFL Free Agents and Their Best Team Fits
While NFL rosters have largely taken shape after the initial boom of free agency and the draft, there are still a number of quality players remaining on the market that could play substantial roles in the 2014 season. It's time to survey the best available free agents and ascertain their best team fits.
When perusing depth charts around the league, it's easy to connect the dots and determine which teams need fortification at specific positions. Whether it's because of injuries or poor planning, the names on this list should find work by the end of training camp.
Here are the best team fits for remaining NFL free agents.
QB Josh Freeman: Detroit Lions
The best quarterback remaining on the market is Josh Freeman, and he's coming off an awful season split between Tampa Bay and Minnesota. In fact, Freeman was the central figure in the most unwatchable game of the entire 2013 campaign: Minnesota's Monday night, Week 7 loss to the Giants in which he only completed 20 of 53 passes for 190 yards and an interception.
But Freeman, 26, is only two years removed from a season (2012) in which he threw for 27 touchdown passes and only 17 interceptions, and he still possesses some upside. According to NFL.com's Gil Brandt, Freeman has been working out with former NFL coaches Jon Gruden and Terry Shea in an effort to resuscitate his flailing career.
The best remaining fit for Freeman is in Detroit, where the backup situation behind starter Matthew Stafford is troubling at best. Either Dan Orlovsky (infamous for this play) or former Boise State product Kellen Moore would play in the event that Stafford got injured, and that simply isn't good enough.
While it's true that Stafford hasn't missed a game in three years, all it takes is one play to knock a quarterback out for an extended period of time. We saw that with Tom Brady in the opening game of the 2008 season and countless other times.
While Freeman's career has taken a turn for the worse, he's still young and has the physical attributes to get the job done. He's started 60 games and thrown 80 touchdown passes. Freeman would be a much better backup option than either Orlovsky or Moore.
RB Ronnie Brown: Minnesota Vikings
Last season, running back Ronnie Brown proved that he still had juice left in his legs, as he was the third option (behind Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead) in the Chargers' three-headed rushing attack. His finest moment came in the team's Wild Card victory over the Bengals, in which he carried the ball eight times for 77 yards and a touchdown.
The 32-year-old Brown will never be a starting running back in the league again, but he definitely still belongs on an NFL roster. He would be a fantastic fit with the Minnesota Vikings.
Right now, the Vikings have Matt Asiata and rookie third-rounder Jerick McKinnon backing up star rusher Adrian Peterson. While Asiata wasn't terrible last season in limited action (rushing for 3.8 yards per carry) and McKinnon has impressed Peterson, per Master Tesfatsion of the Star Tribune, this offseason, Brown would still provide a veteran presence in the event that Peterson were to be felled by injury.
Brown can catch the ball out of the backfield and is still capable of breaking a big run. He would provide valuable insurance for Minnesota if it lost Peterson for any significant amount of time.
WR Santonio Holmes: Tennessee Titans
The most accomplished wide receiver remaining on the market is undoubtedly Santonio Holmes.
The mercurial pass-catcher was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII with the Steelers, and he would go on to have a few successful seasons with the Jets.
But the 30-year-old was limited to only 15 games over the last two seasons with Gang Green and only recorded 43 catches and two touchdown receptions over that span.
Holmes' pedigree is such that he'll surely latch on with a team, likely during training camp, and the Tennessee Titans would be wise to give him a long look.
The Titans have a solid trio of pass-catchers atop the depth chart: Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and the ascending Justin Hunter. But outside of those three, there isn't much, with Marc Mariani and Derek Hagan currently rounding out the group.
Even though he's not the player he once was, Holmes would provide an upgrade over Mariani and Hagan and insurance in the event that Wright, Washington or Hunter were injured. This is a make-or-break year for Titans quarterback Jake Locker, so the team might as well surround him with as many weapons as possible. Holmes would be a nice addition to Tennessee's passing attack.
TE Jermichael Finley: New York Giants
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.
In fact, if Finley had entered the free-agent market with a clean bill of health, he would have been one of the finest players available, regardless of position.
Last season, Finley 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. But his rehabilitation is apparently going well, as he recently told Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com that "this is the best I’ve felt in this entire crazy process."
If Finley continues to make physical strides, there's no doubt he'll end up on an NFL roster. And the team that ends up signing him should be the New York Giants.
The Giants currently have a question mark at the tight end position so gargantuan that it would make the Riddler jealous. Adrien Robinson is the presumptive starter, but he hasn't caught a single pass in two seasons. Undrafted free agent Xavier Grimble has been the recipient of some offseason hype, but he went undrafted for a reason.
If healthy, Finley would immediately step into the Big Blue starting lineup and amplify the passing attack. An added bonus is that the Giants' new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, was formerly the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay, so there is a familiarity between coach and player.
A healthy Finley to the Giants makes too much sense.
C Kyle Cook: Miami Dolphins
Last month, Miami Dolphins star center Mike Pouncey underwent hip surgery which is expected to keep him sidelined well into September, meaning he won't be ready at the start of the season. In fact, Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post speculated that Pouncey could end up missing more than a third of the campaign.
Third-year player Sam Brenner, the owner of four career NFL starts, is the next man up on the depth chart, but the Dolphins would be wise to add a veteran capable of holding down the fort until Pouncey returns.
Enter former Bengals center Kyle Cook.
Cook, who will be 31 at the start of the season, has made 68 starts over the past five seasons in Cincinnati, and he finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 25th-best center. While Cook's best days are surely behind him, he's still capable of playing well, and the Dolphins need help at the position. Miami should bring Cook into the fold as insurance against Pouncey potentially missing more time than expected.
OT Eric Winston: Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens' offensive line had an atrocious 2013 campaign. The team couldn't run the ball, and the protection for quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't good enough.
Right now, second-year man Ricky Wagner is projected as Baltimore's starting right tackle, as the player who manned the position last year, Michael Oher, is now a Tennessee Titan.
Given that the Ravens' goal is to return to the postseason, it would be a prudent decision by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome to bring in veteran competition at the position, and free-agent tackle Eric Winston fits the bill.
Winston, the current president of the NFLPA, hasn't missed a start in the last seven seasons while playing for Houston (2006-2011), Kansas City (2012) and Arizona (2013). The 30-year-old can still go, and he should find himself on a NFL roster sometime during camp.
Winston could potentially provide an upgrade over Wagner and serve as a mentor at the very least. He would represent a low-risk, high-reward signing by the Baltimore brain trust.
LB James Harrison: Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite playing last season for the rival Bengals, linebacker James Harrison will go down as one of the finest and most beloved players in the illustrious history of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 2008 Defensive Player of the Year was an absolute beast in the Steel City, compiling 64 sacks over 10 seasons and helping the team win a pair of Super Bowl trophies.
And if the 36-year-old Harrison does suit up in 2014, it should be for the Steelers.
Last year in Cincinnati, Harrison showed he still has gas left in the tank, starting 10 games and garnering two sacks and an interception. He finished the year as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) eighth-ranked 4-3 outside linebacker.
The Steelers could certainly use another body at outside linebacker, where they are thin behind starters Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Harrison knows coordinator Dick LeBeau's scheme and would surely be energized by a return to Pittsburgh.
Earlier this offseason, Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor told TribLive Radio (via Scott Brown of ESPN.com) that Harrison wants to return to Pittsburgh. The Steelers should make it happen.
CB Asante Samuel: New York Jets
Longtime NFL cornerback Asante Samuel has had a splendid career, amassing 51 interceptions over 11 seasons.
But he didn't play well for the Falcons last year, as he finished the year ranked as Pro Football Focus' 58th-best cornerback. He only intercepted one pass, his lowest total since 2004, his second season in the NFL.
The question is if Samuel, 33, has another season left in him. And the bottom line is that he's been enough of a ball hawk throughout his career to earn an opportunity.
It should be the New York Jets that grant him that chance.
This offseason, the Jets missed out on a number of cornerbacks before settling on Dimitri Patterson, and Patterson is currently set to start opposite Dee Milliner. But Patterson hasn't appeared in a full 16-game slate since 2010, and he only played in six contests last year in Miami.
While Samuel doesn't possess the speed or cover skills he once did, he still has a nose for the football, and his confident aura would make him a favorite of braggadocious Jets coach Rex Ryan.
CB Terrell Thomas: New Orleans Saints
After the 2010 season, former New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas appeared ticketed for superstardom.
Thomas amassed 10 interceptions from 2009-10, but knee injuries forced him to miss all of 2011 and 2012, throwing water on what looked like an extremely promising career.
To Thomas' credit, he persevered and bounced back in 2013, starting seven games and intercepting a pass. But unfortunately for him, the Giants moved on this offseason with a spate of signings at the position that included Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman.
Out of all the teams with needs at the position, the New Orleans Saints seem to be a logical fit. They are thin at cornerback outside of Keenan Lewis, with Champ Bailey, Patrick Robinson and rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste rounding out the top four.
If healthy, Thomas would definitely improve the New Orleans secondary and give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan another toy to play with.
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