What Might the Future Hold for Top Unsigned NFL Free Agents?
The waiting game can be a difficult one for veteran NFL free agents.
Just ask retired safety Matt Bowen and current free agent Geoff Schwartz, who remains unsigned despite the market opening more than two weeks ago. The pair put together an informative back-and-forth on the process for ESPN.
"When the money dries up and the market slows, the common man of the NFL just hopes for another shot, another opportunity to play some ball," Bowen wrote. "I've been there, and former Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz is in that situation right now."
Schwartz, who was released by the New York Giants, is waiting for the call.
"There's plenty of time left," Schwartz wrote. "I'm going to sit tight, keep working out, keep getting myself stronger and be ready to go when the call comes. There will be a call. I'm too good of a player for there not to be."
Schwartz isn't alone. A number of big names are still available as the calendar creeps closer and closer to April.
In the following slides, we will take a stab at predicting the future for a few of these top players.
S Reggie Nelson
With 30 career interceptions and a Pro Bowl season in 2015 (including an NFL-high eight interceptions), Nelson is the most accomplished safety and one of the best defensive players left in free agency. However, his market hasn't heated up, likely due to the fact that he'll turn 33 years old in September.
The Bengals decided early on in the process Nelson wouldn't back in Cincinnati.
A safety capable of playing the pass as a center fielder and helping against the run near the line of scrimmage, Nelson would still upgrade a number of secondaries around the NFL.
According to Pro Football Focus, his age hasn't produced obvious signs of decline.
"Best as a deep safety, Nelson has earned positive coverage grades each of the past five seasons, with last year’s plus-8.1 cumulative grade being the second-highest of his nine-year career," PFF's Matt Claassen wrote.
Finding a fit for Nelson is surprisingly difficult. He'd make sense in Oakland, where the Raiders could use a veteran playmaker to replace Charles Woodson. What about a reunion with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota? There's also a chance his price could hit a point where the Bengals would come back into play. Regardless, some team is going to get a good player at a discount price.
DL Nick Fairley
A former first-round pick, Fairley might be looking at playing for his third team in three years. But his 2015 season with the St. Louis Rams showed he can still be a disruptive player as part of a defensive line rotation.
According to Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus, Fairley graded out as a top-five defensive tackle in the NFL last season, despite playing fewer than 500 snaps. His half-sack over 15 games was a deceptive stat, as he was still able to consistently pressure the quarterback and make disruptive plays against the run.
Fairley might not be available for long.
According to Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com, Fairley was at the NFL owners' meetings in Florida to meet with the New England Patriots. He's also been linked to the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints, while a return to the Rams can't be ruled out.
Interior defensive linemen are generally worth their weight in gold. Fairley isn't going to break the bank, but he should find a new home soon.
Where is hist best fit? He could be dominant in New England, and it's clear the Rams know how to use and motivate him.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
The stare down between Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets continues to drag on, even though one side is bound to blink and Fitzpatrick still remains quite likely to return to New York.
Jets owner Woody Johnson confirmed this week that Fitzpatrick remains a priority.
"I hope we can come to an agreement," Johnson said, per Randy Lange of the team's official site. "Fitzy had the best year in his career with this coordinator, with Chan [Gailey], and did well for the Jets. But the two sides have to come up with an agreement that obviously both sides are happy with."
Therein lies the conundrum. The Jets and Fitzpatrick are perfect for each other, but with the quarterback market officially out of control, Fitzpatrick—a veteran coming off a season with 31 touchdown passes for the 10-win Jets—is ready to cash in.
One of two things seem likely to happen. Either the Jets will cave to the going price of a starting quarterback and give Fitzpatrick something close to what he desires, or Fitzpatrick will figure out how few teams actually want him at his price point and return to New York to continue what he's started.
WR Anquan Boldin
Boldin will turn 36 in October, but he's not done playing, and he's not done chasing another Super Bowl ring.
According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Boldin is "certainly not contemplating retirement." He wants to play in 2016, but his preference is to continue his career with a team capable of contending at the "highest level," per Rand Getlin of NFL Network.
In San Francisco last season, Boldin produced 69 receptions for 789 yards and four touchdowns over 14 games—despite catching passes from Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert for the 5-11 49ers.
His age is going to scare off a majority of teams, but his toughness and leadership will be attractive qualities for any contender looking to add depth at receiver. Boldin can still make an impact, especially for teams like the Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders or Houston Texans.
RB Arian Foster
Approaching 30 years old and coming off a devastating injury, Foster will likely spend the majority of the offseason waiting to find his next team.
From Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk: "Arian Foster’s plan is to be patient, per a source with knowledge of the situation. That means waiting to see what happens throughout free agency and the draft, and to make a decision later in the offseason."
According to Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com, Foster is expected to be ready for training camp. If fully healthy by late summer, he'll become a much more attractive option for teams in need at running back.
However, it's hard to predict which teams will be viable options for Foster, especially with the rest of free agency and the draft standing between now and when he will be prepared to sign. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks could make sense come July.
LB Karlos Dansby
Dansby might be 34, but he's coming off a 2015 season in which he produced 109 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. A hyperproductive veteran on a team looking at a huge rebuild, Dansby will now have the opportunity to latch on with a contender for the final years of his career.
Dansby listed the Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals as potential landing spots, although it's uncertain if interest from the three teams is mutual.
Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports 910 reported the Seattle Seahawks have shown interest, potentially to replace linebacker Bruce Irvin.
The 12-year veteran is excited about his freedom.
"Wherever I go, I know I'm going to be in a better situation to win right now,'' Dansby said. "To even have a shot at it with a system, that's already in place, it's time to move. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.''
It might take some time to find the right fit, but a number of contenders should be willing to give him a chance. The 34-year-old has plenty left in the tank.
S Rashad Johnson
Age isn't the only factor limiting the veteran safety market.
Johnson, 30, produced nine interceptions for the Arizona Cardinals over the last two seasons. Despite playing a number of roles in a loaded secondary, he's had a quiet start to free agency.
According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has played over 96 percent of Arizona's defensive snaps since 2014 while grading out in the positive range in coverage.
Who needs a coverage safety? The Titans, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts could all make a run at Johnson, who should now come at a decent price.