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Impact Players Who Remain on the Market in NFL Free Agency

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2016

Impact Players Who Remain on the Market in NFL Free Agency

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    We have cooled to a simmer on the NFL free-agent market, many of the impact players available having exited the market by way of a new contract. But there are many more available who could have a huge impact on their teams.

    For a variety of reasons, there are several guys with the ability to help—or potentially hurt—in big ways who are still on the market. Let's take a look at a few of the available players who could make a big impact in 2016.

Reggie Nelson, Safety

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    What do you call a 32-year-old free-agent safety who just made his first Pro Bowl?

    Lonely.

    Reggie Nelson has scarcely gotten a whiff in free agency, age seemingly getting the better of his stock. But age is just a number, right?

    Well in the NFL, it can catch up with any player over 30 overnight. That's probably why he's not being offered any big multiyear deals. But Nelson led the league in interceptions last season and graded out ninth overall at his position, according to Pro Football Focus.

    He might be a long-term risk, but Nelson would have a big impact in the short term for anyone who needs a safety, including his own team if he re-signs with the Cincinnati Bengals.

     

Greg Hardy, Defensive End

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Having a big impact isn't necessarily a good thing.

    Greg Hardy could well be a huge boost to any team's pass rush, to be sure. But his impact off the field could be felt far more deeply. The story of his alleged assault (Warning: Link contains graphic images) on a former girlfriend is sickening, and his attitude about it after the fact has been deplorable.

    Any team who elects to bring Hardy on along with his truckloads of baggage risks a storm of criticism like the Dallas Cowboys suffered last year. It wasn't the reason they fell miserably short of the postseason, but his presence on the roster couldn't have helped matters.

    If Hardy is somehow humbled, repentant and focused for a new team, he could be a dynamo at defensive end, the kind of pass-rusher who changes the equation for the entire defense. But that is a big if, and Hardy wasn't exactly out of this world when he was healthy last season.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Quarterback

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    Mike Coppola/Getty Images

    You know the sound of a tree branch hitting a sand dune? How about when you slap a down pillow?

    That's about the impact Ryan Fitzpatrick makes in the NFL. The trouble is that is still viable and somewhat valuable as a starting quarterback.

    The 33-year-old journeyman proved as much with the New York Jets last season, the best one of his professional career. He posted career-best numbers with 3,981 passing yards and 31 touchdowns after finding Mecca in New York.

    So why hasn't he re-signed yet?

    Well, Fitzpatrick wants $16 million to $18 million a year, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. That's why. That's rich coming from a guy who couldn't complete 60 percent of his passes and regressed to 6.7 yards per attempt in spite of his resurgence.

    There are a few starting jobs left, which is likely what he is trying to leverage into such a huge deal. But the fact that the Jets are balking at his demands and he isn't getting much traction elsewhere should be a wake-up call.

Walter Thurmond, Safety

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Early retirement is all the rage in the NFL these days. Several quality players have called it quits before their time, some in their prime. 

    Walter Thurmond could be the next in a string of premature retirements. The 28-year-old flourished last year after changing positions—he was far better as a safety than at cornerback. He graded 26th among all safeties over at Pro Football Focus, a decent outcome, all things considered.

    Thurmond could help a lot of teams—assuming he can stay healthy, something he was unable to do until last season—if he decides to stay in the game.

Robert Griffin III, Quarterback

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Signing Robert Griffin III brings with it a range of possible impacts.

    Perhaps a new team breathes new life into his career. Armed with an opportunity to start elsewhere and the talent that made him Rookie of the Year over Andrew Luck, Griffin lays waste to the NFL in divine vengeance. He leads his team to a postseason berth right away, just as he did as a rookie. 

    Or he is handed the keys to another castle and lets it get overrun. He proves Washington is no fluke, grousing when he gets benched and proving his old teammates right—he is a locker room cancer.

    Maybe he signs on as a backup somewhere, fading away into oblivion, never to be heard from again in the NFL.

Aldon Smith, Edge-Rusher

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Aldon Smith is an impact player for all the same reasons Greg Hardy is one. Perhaps more so.

    Smith's off-field issues are an entirely different animal than those Hardy has created. For his part, Smith hasn't thumbed his nose at them—he has simply been unable to help himself in the past.

    Unfortunately for him, any impact on the field will have to wait—he can sign, but he can't play. Smith is still serving his year-long suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy after allegedly driving drunk, per ESPN.

    When he does return—in Week 11 at the earliest—Smith represents a rare talent, among the best in the league as a pass-rusher. He owns the rookie record with 14 sacks and came close to breaking the all-time record with 19.5 as a sophomore.

    If he can clean up his act and keep his head on straight, Smith would have a Von Miller-like impact on any defense.

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