Operating as if their cap space expires next week, NFL teams have wasted little time making free-agent splashes.
Weeks before the draft and months before the season begins, several key dominoes have already fallen. As is often the case, struggling teams immediately threw cash at their problems as more patient franchises wait for bargains.
Amid the opening week's signing bonanza, these three veterans remain unsigned. That's not necessarily due to a lack of interest, but one of them has found a surprisingly quiet market given the sonic boom made by lesser position counterparts.
Their names are currently running rampant on the rumor mill. If the past few days offer any indication, don't expect them to stay on the open market for much longer.
Right about now, Ryan Fitzpatrick should be salivating over contracts signed by Sam Bradford and Brock Osweiler. Amid a free-agent crop of quarterback gambles, the 33-year-old represents the best option for immediate success.
Evidently, few teams in need of a passer feel the same way. According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the New York Jets want him back as their 2016 starter, but they "won't overpay" for a short-term fix. Meanwhile, Mehta wrote off two teams desperately needing help under center:
The Browns are also looking for a signal caller, but they're not interested in Fitzpatrick. New head coach Hue Jackson already has a veteran backup on the roster: Josh McCown. Cleveland will likely draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick.
The Rams don't have real interest in making a significant financial investment in Fitzpatrick either, according to sources.
With those franchises uninterested, the Jets may not have to worry about a bidding war. However, there's still one wild card on the table. Although they acquired Mark Sanchez from the Philadelphia Eagles, as first reported by 9News' Mike Klis, the Denver Broncos are still shopping for another quarterback, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Even after trading for Mark Sanchez, Broncos plan to bring in another QB to compete for starting job. Denver not done at QB yet.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 11, 2016
Schefter also said the Jets are exploring other options, meeting with former Washington star Robert Griffin III on Friday:
Major QB development: former Redskins QB Robert Griffin III is scheduled to visit the NY Jets later today, league source tells ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 11, 2016
Fitzpatrick tossed a career-high and franchise-record 31 touchdowns for the 10-6 Jets, but a poor Week 17 might have cost him a significant raise. Needing a victory to clinch a postseason berth, Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions in a 22-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Late gaffes have come with the territory throughout his erratic career:
|Month||GP||CMP %||YPA||TD||INT||QB RTG|
Nevertheless, he helped engineer the Jets' first winning season since 2010. Outside of Griffin, the intriguing replacements are already off the table, and they don't have a high enough pick to draft a strong long-term option.
A one- or two-year deal makes sense for both the Jets and Fitzpatrick, who has played for four teams in as many years. With a weary market forcing his hand, the journeyman finally stays put for a little while.
Prediction: New York Jets
As everyone else works against an imaginary clock to finalize arrangements, Eric Weddle is taking his time. The 31-year-old safety remains one of, if not the top free agent available, but he's not rushing toward a new employer.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune's Kevin Acee, Weddle is engaging in preliminary discussions with a few teams:
Eric Weddle has at least four irons in fire. Raiders are one. Just in talking phase with those teams now.— Kevin Acee (@sdutKevinAcee) March 11, 2016
After ranking No. 22 in total defense last year, the Oakland Raiders have used their ample cap space to sign linebacker Bruce Irvin and cornerback Sean Smith. Per CSN's Scott Bair, the former Kansas City Chiefs defensive back is campaigning for the former San Diego Charger to also switch AFC West allegiances:
Sean Smith: "If we were to add Eric Weddle, this defense could be something special.'— Scott Bair (@BairCSN) March 11, 2016
Irvin is also recruiting Weddle, who collected his lowest tackle tally (78) since 2007 in 13 games last season:
@weddlesbeard come join this party you and the beard! we bout to have it litttt bro all year. Ain't no fun if the homies can't get none!— Bruce Irvin (@BIrvin_WVU11) March 10, 2016
Down year aside, any defense would benefit from his coverage abilities. The Raiders have proven willing and able to spend big this offseason, and they especially need safety help following Charles Woodson's retirement.
The only possible roadblock? Weddle expressed his desire to play for a contender to MMQB.com's Peter King.
“I’ve got three to five years left in me,” Weddle said last Saturday. “I want to go somewhere I have a chance to win a Super Bowl. Until last year I’ve never been injured. I’ve never had surgery. I don’t drink, I don’t go out. My shoulders, back, legs, hip, they’re all fine. I think I bring a lot to a team.”
Along with Oakland, the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers are mentioned as desirable landing spots. If winning is his No. 1 goal, those teams should all rank ahead of the Raiders. Then again, money talks, and Oakland is bulking up at the perfect time to capitalize on its burgeoning offense and a wide-open division.
Prediction: Oakland Raiders
Once one of the game's elite offensive tackles, Russell Okung's performance has sagged over the years. Since earning a Pro Bowl appearance in 2012, the former first-round pick has played 35 games over the past three seasons.
When on the field, he earned a 72.1 grade (on a scale to 100) from Pro Football Focus. Yet the 28-year-old has displayed top-tier ability while helping transform the Seattle Seahawks into a powerhouse. One of the offseason's most intriguing free agents is drawing plenty of interest.
According to NFL Network's Michael Silver, the San Francisco 49ers are the latest team to enter the mix:
The 49ers have reached out to OT Russell Okung, joining the Seahawks, Lions & Giants in pursuit of the unrestricted free agent @nflnetwork— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) March 11, 2016
Per Schefter, Okung will meet with the Detroit Lions after visiting the New York Giants on Friday:
Seahawks free-agent OT Russell Okung is finished with his Giants visit and will be on way to visit Detroit Lions on Saturday.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 11, 2016
Unlike most athletes, Okung is representing himself instead of hiring an agent. While health concerns will limit his payday, he's not damaging his own negotiating process, as one executive relayed to Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo:
Exec for one team that spoke to Okung said he was very well prepared and professional. Injury history might prevent a big payday though.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 11, 2016
If nobody else blows him away, the Seahawks should be waiting with open arms. They struggled to keep Russell Wilson upright, allowing 46 sacks last season. Having already lost starting guard J.R. Sweezy to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they can't afford to let their weak link grow weaker.
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks