Free agents are the last thing on the minds of NFL teams at the moment. Heading into their third preseason games, coaches and general managers are much more worried about the jobs they'll be taking away than the ones they'll be granting.
The league's collective bargaining agreement dictates that teams must cut their rosters to 75 players by Aug. 26—within a couple days of each team's third preseason game. Four days later, the rosters are pared to the maximum 53 players.
Assuming each team carries the maximum 90 players (they don't, but stay with me), that means up to 1,184 men will lose their livelihoods. The NFL has increased the practice squad maximum to 10 players, lessening the blow for up to 320 of those guys. But that's still the entire population of Blue Ridge, Texas, suddenly finding out they're without a job.
All of this is to say that most of the men who are without gigs right now aren't getting them. Which is also to say most of them don't deserve to cash a check for playing football. I mean...that's a lot of players being picked up ahead of you unemployed, folks.
But there are exceptions to every rule. Brett Keisel could have had a job months ago if he had any interest in leaving the greater Pennsylvania area. The Steelers picked him up for depth this week. Santonio Holmes could've also had a job earlier this summer but wound up finding the perfect fit in Chicago.
Of the worthy players hanging on the market, about 99 percent of them are former NFL players looking for a solid fit. Here's a quick look at a few who could help needy teams.
TE Jermichael Finley
Granted, Finley's unemployment is rooted in health much more than talent. The former Packers star would have been counting his signing bonus money at the moment had a serious neck injury not put him on the shelf last October. He had spinal fusion surgery a month later, a procedure that comes with a recovery time entirely dependent on the patient.
The Seahawks were on the verge of signing Finley in March before a failed physical nixed the agreement. He also visited the Patriots and drew interest from the Steelers and Raiders, each time leaving without a contract.
It's unclear how rigorous of an examination he was given in New England, but Finley's camp has maintained he's healthy. His agent, Blake Baratz, told ProFootballTalk Finley was 100 percent medically cleared by his personal physician in late May. Dr. Joseph Maroon, who cleared Finley, works with the Steelers.
While waiting for a call, Finley has taken up training with Tim Tebow. Assuming he's at full health—a decent assumption given Dr. Maroon's reputation—it's a surprise he hasn't latched onto a team looking for a reliable pass-catcher. Finley made 223 receptions for 2,785 yards and 20 touchdowns in six seasons in Green Bay. He never became the perennial Pro Bowler that many expected after his 2009 breakout, but he's a big, strong athlete who garners defensive attention.
The Giants' two choices at tight end are Adrien Robinson and Kellen Davis. Robinson, though solid in the preseason, had zero catches in his first two NFL seasons. Davis is plain bad at football. I'm not sure what the Giants' offensive game plan is for 2014—based on their first two preseason games, I'm unsure they know either—but Finley is certainly a better option than Davis.
That said, it may all work out for Finley in the end regardless. His $10 million disability insurance doesn't sound like awful compensation for a lifetime without worrying about permanent neck damage.
CB Asante Samuel
Samuel, just a few years removed from being one of the NFL's most feared cornerbacks, looked finished last season. He played in only 11 games due to injury, made only 30 tackles and tied his career low with one interception. The ultra-aggressive ball hawk who came down with 10 picks in a single season and nine in another was nowhere to be found.
When the Falcons cut him in February, it felt like a given. He was due a ton of money for a whole lot of unproductiveness.
That he's without a job entirely, though, seems strange. Samuel is still only 33 years old and was quite good during his first season in Atlanta. He made five picks, scored a defensive touchdown and finished 25th in Pro Football Focus' coverage metric (subscription required). Hell, even in his down 2013 campaign, Samuel still rated better than the likes of Brandon Carr, Charles Tillman and Ike Taylor.
The NFL is nothing if not in need of half-decent help defending the pass. Samuel could fit in as a third or fourth corner in any number of situations. Given the way Atlanta's secondary has looked this preseason, it might want to take a second look at bringing him back. The Cowboys, Lions and Chargers could also use help.
In the end, I get the feeling Samuel's absence from an NFL roster is as much his doing as it is that of teams. While he told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com that he wanted to play "two or three" more seasons, his public displays of interest have been minimal since. The Jets reached out earlier this month, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, but there were never serious negotiations.
The likeliest explanation: Samuel wants to play. Samuel doesn't want to go through training camp and the hassle of getting into shape for a veteran's minimum payday. Teams (correctly) see him as a limited-snap veteran piece who is replacement-level and aging. I suspect it'll take a major injury before a team signs Samuel early in the regular season.
Other Players of Note
TE Dustin Keller
Another tight end with injury questions. Keller might still be an NFL starter if it weren't for his knee reconstruction. He's played eight games over the last two seasons and was only mildly productive when in the lineup. But, again, he is better at football than some of the tight ends who currently have jobs. Keller was a serviceable starter in New York, and he might have a better NFL resume if Mark Sanchez weren't throwing him the ball. At age 29, Keller should have a couple more years left in the tank.
LB James Harrison
Essentially the Asante Samuel of linebackers. Harrison seems worse than he really is because people can see how far he's fallen since his peak. He managed only 30 tackles last season in limited work with Cincinnati, also registering one of his lowest career sack totals. Still, he acquitted himself better than expected working in a 4-3 defense. Like Samuel, he'll be looking for the right situation to come available via injury.
QB Josh Freeman
From a career-numbers standpoint, Freeman is basically Matt Cassel. It's sad that he flamed out so spectacularly last season that his self-confidence seems to be shot for good. Blaming Greg Schiano is a little too convenient, but it's also not entirely wrong. Had Schiano shown even a modicum of confidence in Freeman, he might've had a little in himself. There's some upside here for an above-average backup quarterback if a team is willing to take the chance.
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