The 25 Best Remaining NFL Free Agents

Gareth DerbyCorrespondent IAugust 26, 2011

The 25 Best Remaining NFL Free Agents

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    Roster cuts are coming, traditionally taking place in the tail end of August and early September (although given the way the NFL seems to be playing fast and loose with dates this year, stay posted).  

    Most teams have the philosophy that they should hold their breath until that point, with an eye to finding treasure from another team's trash, and expecting to reap the profits of the inevitable wave of freshly unemployed athletes.

    That makes free agency a little like war: 95 percent waiting and only five percent action.

    There's the initial rush to sign the big name guys (from Asomugha through Vince Young) and then there's a lull.

    There's the waiting period, and then it's back on with the roster cutbacks in a signing spree involving teams engaging in multiple negotiations with dozens of agents for scores of players.

    But at this second, it's the lull. The time before the five percent of action. Ergo, the boring bit.

    But not entirely boring, as there are some somewhat surprising names still in the pool who are available to sign, right this second, to the right bidder with the right price.

    With that in mind, let's examine 25 players who are in free agency who could potentially make a team better, right this second. 

Shawn Andrews, Guard/ Tackle

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    It's only been a year since Shawn Andrews signed a six-year, $32.5 million contract with the New York Giants. Clearly the Giants thought he was worth a long contract, and it's not like the Giants are a front office that struggles to rate the relative ability of interior linemen (see: Snee, Chris).

    However, Shawn Andrews has had issues.

    There was the bout of depression that struck him in 2008, meaning he missed the bulk of training camp and then suffered a season-ending injury after only two starts.

    Then there was 2009, when he had surgery in the offseason and then suffered another season-ending injury.

    His 2010 was patchy, showing he could start at left tackle but being otherwise undistinguished.

    What would a team get in 2011? A guy who had the physical ability to get to Pro Bowls in 2006 and 2007, and have not one but two teams throw big-money, long-term contracts at him.

    But you'd also be buying a guy with as many season-ending injuries as healthy seasons and a history of mental health issues that directly affect his play.

    Two words: huge upside. Two more words: caveat emptor.

Tully Banta-Cain, 3-4 Outside Linebacker

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    Tully Banta-Cain is the proud owner of two Super Bowl rings, and is only two years removed from a double-digit sack season.

    It seems unusual that a proven outside pass rushing commodity has been on the shelf for so long.

    However, the reality is that he's not a huge force, but he's useful.

    In 2010 he notched five sacks, including a last-second strip-sack of Matt Flynn to seal the win for the Patriots over the Super Bowl-destined Green Bay Packers. In the right circumstances, he can make still game-winning plays.

    But he's also a player with significant flaws.

    He's not great at stopping the run or sealing the edge, and he's even worse in coverage. He'll drop off tackles. He doesn't play special teams.

    But he's better than unemployment. Give the guy a job, someone?

    More than likely, he'll be signed by the first team that loses a pass rushing 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE, with the intent on making him as a patch job starter.

    But in the meantime, he's a free agent. 

Brian Brohm, Quarterback

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    Brian Brohm is a "what if?" story.

    He was a highly-recruited college prospect and was eventually drafted by the Green Bay Packers, just in case Aaron Rodgers didn't work out. 

    It just so happened that the Packers picked up another likely backup quarterback that year, a guy by the name of Matt Flynn out of LSU.

    Flynn had been behind JaMarcus Russell on the LSU depth chart, so nobody except his mother had great hopes for him. Yet he blossomed and scrapped his way into the No. 2 spot on the Green Bay roster during preseason, and Brohm found himself on the practice squad.

    So how good is Brohm? It's really hard to gauge. Clearly, Green Bay thought that Rodgers and Flynn were better than him, but having seen Flynn start last year, that's no insult. Flynn's a genuinely gifted quarterback.

    So where does that leave Brohm?

    On one side of the ledger, you have Brohm's poor play in a Bills uniform.

    On the other side, you have the fact that the Green Bay Packers thought he'd be a pretty good quarterback, and this is the team that presumably used the same scouting systems to find Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn.

    Brohm is young—only 25 years old—and presumably has a high enough upside that Ted Thompson thought him worthy of a second-round draft pick. He ought to be able to fit in somewhere, surely.

Correll Buckhalter, Running Back

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    Buckhalter's not an every-down stud running back. Those aren't available at this stage of free agency. Let's make that clear.

    But he offers a fairly useful skill set to the right organization. 

    In 2010 he was fairly productive in an atrocious Denver Broncos backfield. He played 15 games, rushing 59 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried a load as a pass catcher, with 28 receptions for a healthy 240 yards and another two touchdowns.

    So what would he offer in 2011?

    I wouldn't imagine he'd bring much more than last year, although he would profit off an improved offensive line. But what he would give a team is a guy who can run a little, catch the ball, pass protect, and probably teach some young running backs the same.

    That kind of experience is both valuable and necessary, so it is unlikely that he stays unsigned forever.

Marc Bulger, Quarterback

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    Yes, Marc Bulger's retired.

    Brett Favre has said that so many times it's not funny to make jokes about it any more.

    Kerry Collins was retired, too, but had an elderly moment and thought for a second that his name was "Peyton Manning." Through a comedy of errors worthy of a Shakespearean play, Collins accidentally convinced Coach Caldwell he was Peyton Manning, and Kerry became the Colts starting quarterback.

    In the same vein, Marc Bulger's retired.

    But given this is the NFL, there are clearly different levels of "retired."

    His is likely in the region of "a good team suddenly needs a quarterback to get them through for a few weeks? And I get a trip somewhere warm?!" retirement.

    It'd be contingent upon a good team having a spate of injuries (which hopefully doesn't occur), but it's plausible to see him come out of retirement if the right circumstances arise.

    And nobody could really blame him.

Channing Crowder, 3-4 Inside Linebacker

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    Channing Crowder is a little strange.

    He can't find London on a map, and when he finally did, he didn't believe black people lived there.

    He fist fights offensive linemen.

    He has verbal spats with opposition coaches.

    He has verbal spats with his own coaches.

    And he also occasionally retires on the spot for no particular reason, only a week after hitting free agency.

    Do I believe he's really retired? Not so much. He's a gifted 27-year-old who didn't play badly last year, and he barely tested the free agency waters. This was reactionary and is as likely to be reversed in as reactionary a decision in the other direction.

    So if or when he ends his retirement (or claims he doesn't know what retirement is), I'm sure he'll have a suitor or two.

Alge Crumpler, Tight End

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    Alge Crumpler was the odd man out of the 2011 New England tight end logjam.

    Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and new additions Lee Smith and Will Yeatman have eaten up all of Alge's potential roles.

    Gronk's an all-around tight end, as he run-blocks, pass-protects and receives passes. He's particularly good at finding the gaps in zone coverage and in the red zone.

    Hernandez is a tight end-wide receiver hybrid, particularly adept at beating man coverage.

    Yeatman and Smith are both blocking tight ends, with rangy but solid physiques and college-honed blocking skills.

    In short, all of Alge's roles were hijacked.

    But that doesn't mean he's useless, far from it. He's a leader, and part of the reason Gronkowski and Hernandez developed so quickly and thoroughly was that Alge Crumpler was in their ear on every snap.

    In some ways, he coached himself out of a roster spot.

    But it's precisely that mentoring ability that will get him a job in 2011 and his ability to block like a demon that'll let him keep it.

    He'd be best thrown into a young tight end rotation as the extra offensive lineman, where he can be an on-field coach and mentor. Give the man a job, and he'll give you some gifted young tight ends.

Leonard Davis, Guard

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    Leonard Davis was the highest-paid NFL player in 2007, earning $25.4 million. He was second overall pick in the 2001 draft, ahead of LaDanian Tomlinson, Richard Seymour and fellow guard Steve Hutchinson.

    So why is he a free agent?

    Partly it was cost, as the Dallas Cowboys declined to resign a guy at elite offensive lineman money who was getting up in age, especially given their salary cap concerns.

    Partly it was declining play, as he's 355 lbs on a 32-year-old's knees.

    Partly it was penalties, as he was the fifth most penalized player since 2005 (although teammate Alex Barron was the worst by a fair way, so maybe it's a coaching thing).

    But he's too good to be unemployed completely.

    Perhaps he's asking for too much at the moment, but someone ought to be able to find cap and roster room for a guy who made the Pro Bowl in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

    The guy can still play, and he's definitely not an injury concern, with 153 starts from 153 appearances since 2001. Impressive. 

Jake Delhomme, Quarterback

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    Jake Delhomme causes confusion, because he's one of those guys in whom NFL fans struggle to see the positives, but NFL front office people continue to hire.

    The weaknesses seem apparent to the NFL outsider. 

    He has a penchant for spraying it into triple coverage when a frustrated receiver is wide open elsewhere on the field.

    He also has a tendency to lob wobblers into regions of the field inhabited only by baffled (but delighted) defensive backs.

    He has the amazing ability to get benched or hurt, only to have his replacement similarly become hurt, just in time for Delhomme to reclaim the starting spot.

    And yet he's somehow kept his reputation clean in the place it counts most: the front offices of NFL franchises.

    Even quarterback guru Mike Holmgren saw enough in Delhomme to not only sign the guy but elevate him to starter. Twice.

    He's now a free agent. At some point, some team will scrabble around to find a starting quarterback, realize they're bereft, and give Jake's number a call. It seems to be his forte.

Jarvis Green, Defensive Tackle/ Defensive End

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    Jarvis Green is far from the peak of his form.

    The Patriots let him slip into free agency, clearly knowing more than other teams. In 2010, the Broncos signed him to a four-year, $20 million deal but cut him a few months later, citing injuries and form issues.

    That wasn't the end, though. In December an injury-plagued Houston Texans signed him as cover for an injured Mario Williams (which is a bit like signing Daniel Graham if Andre Johnson went down, but ignore that).

    So where does that leave Green? As a late-notice injury replacement in all likelihood.

    He still offers a lot of experience. Green has played and started in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. He's also played in both one-gap and two-gap roles. He won't be elite, but he won't be out of his depth, either.

    It's this versatility that means he's effectively able to fit in with any of the 32 teams. That alone might allow him a shot in the NFL this year. 

Ken Hamlin, Defensive Back

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    Pros: He's played in a fair few systems, ranging from a cover-two with the Colts to a blitz-heavy 3-4 where the safeties drop into a box and play single-high, with the Ravens.

    Cons: He couldn't stick. Anywhere.

    Hamlin's got talent. Between 2006 and 2009 he had 230-odd tackles, three sacks, nine picks, two fumbles forced and 28 defensed passes.

    Did that all disappear in 2010? He bounced out of the Ravens and Jets before he found himself unemployed. He did find time to pick off some guy, Tom Brady.

    It seems unlikely that there isn't a team anywhere who could find a use for Hamlin. Maybe if or when a safety gets hurt somewhere, Hamlin will be the first cab off the rank.

    Maybe he'll follow Bob Sanders from the Colts to the Chargers? 

Nick Kaczur, Tackle/ Guard

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    Nick Kaczur has had a tumultuous last few years. 

    In February 2008 he was a starting right tackle in the Super Bowl.

    In 2009 he flip-flopped the starting gig with rookie Patriots offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

    In 2010 he was on injured reserve with a bad back, after trying to slip into left guard to cover for Logan Mankins during a contract holdout.

    What would Kaczur give you? A guy who has started at left tackle (as a rookie, no less), at right tackle, and, as of 2010, at left guard.

    He's also a 30-plus offensive lineman with a bad back.

    Further, his most televised game ever (2007 season Super Bowl) happened to be a massacre, with his pride as the victim and Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora the perpetrators.

    But in saying that, for a guy who can cover four positions on the offensive line at a pinch, perhaps he's worth the effort. At worst he can save a team a roster spot by covering so many positions.

Vince Manuwai, Guard

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    Vince Manuwai has a pretty impressive resume.

    He's been a key cog in a run game that hit 2,500 yards in 2006 and 2,400 yards in 2007. 

    In 2008 he was injured with ACL and MCL issues, which is a red flag, and, unsurprisingly, he struggled to recover in 2009.

    In 2010 he was leapfrogged by Justin Smiley but regained the starting role when Smiley went down. With Manuwai in place, the Jags' run game was again impressive, but he's now a free agent for the simple reason that two do not fit into one.

    It's not a stretch of the imagination that Manuwai could shore up one of the weaker offensive lines straight away (Eagles?). Or he could go to a run-heavy team with the intent of being a road grader (Bills?).

    He'd fit somewhere; they just have to give him a chance.

Shaun O'Hara, Center/ Guard

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    Shaun O'Hara is one of those NFL players whose Pro Bowl selections have earned a little ire.

    He was elected in 2008, 2009 and 2010, so clearly even if he's not the top two or even four centers in the league, he's one of the better ones around. Even his Pro Bowl selection detractors would give him that much.

    So it's a little baffling that he's unsigned.

    He's 34, but he's coming off three good seasons (at least).

    He's also a leader, having been a team captain since 2007. He was the Giants' union rep and rather outspoken at that (which may put franchise management off?)

    But he's clearly a quality footballer and ought to have a job by now.

Antwan Odom, 4-3 Defensive End

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    Odom's a physical talent. He's 280 lbs, 6'5", and quick.

    If this were Week 6 of 2009, we might be talking of him as a lock for an All-Pro nomination.

    During a rollicking start to the 2009 season, with six games, six starts, 19 tackles and eight sacks (eight! in 6 games!), Odom flashed the talent that convinced the Titans to drop a second-round draft pick on him.

    But then everything went wrong. He hurt his Achilles tendon. Scratch one season.

    The 2010 season was effectively a write-off, too, only playing four games and registering four tackles.

    So the real question is whether the early 2009 Antwan Odom turns up or whether the 2010 Odom does.

    But the mere possibility of the 2009 Odom turning up may cause a general manager to take a punt on him.

Terrell Owens, Wide Receiver

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    Terrell Owens isn't doing sit-ups in a public street any more, but he may need to. 

    He ended 2010 on the low note of being put on injured reserve for the first time in his career.

    He didn't have better news in the offseason, either, having surgery for a blown ACL in April.

    But if his public statements or his agent are to be believed, he's healing. Healing, and with a strong desire to play football this year.

    If the guy is anything, he's a fast healer. It's easy to forget his ridiculous 2004 season, where he improved out-of-sight for the Eagles before returning (and impressing) during the playoffs.

    In short, he's a guy who is very, very hard to write off entirely. And for that reason there's a fair chance he'll be playing football this year.

    Even if he's slowed by his injury, he's still a physically imposing 6'3" wide receiver. He'll find a place to fit, even if he's basically a skinny tight end at this point.

    Who knows? Maybe he'll end up back in Philly, given the fragility of Jackson, Maclin and company.  

Clinton Portis, Running Back

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    Clinton Portis is surprisingly young, at only 29 years old. He hasn't even hit the 30-year barrier that supposedly deems all running backs washed up and decrepit.

    Nor has he quite hit the 10,000 yard rushing mark, a golden milestone for which elite running backs aim.

    He's got a lot to play for.

    In spite of his personal milestones he could have been targeting, he indicated a severe lack of team spirit as the reason for the weak last couple of years on the Washington Redskins.

    He seems to be a guy in desperate need of a team with a strong hand on the tiller to redirect his focus and give him something to aim for above mediocrity.

    If he finds that, he can unleash his array of gifts, as he must be one of the most punishing pass-protection running backs around, as well as an able slashing running back and gifted pass catcher. 

    He's unlikely to be an every-down running back at this point, but he can fill in ably on any given down. Alternatively, he might carve out a niche as a third-down running back. But he'd find a use somewhere, assuming he's in game shape.

Darren Sharper, Safety

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    Darren Sharper hit that cliff in 2010. That cliff.

    He went from having 51 tackles, half a sack, nine picks and 15 passes defensed in 2009 to having a mere 16 tackles in eight appearances in 2010.

    Some might suggest he's done as a player.

    Can he contribute something to an NFL roster at this point?

    More than likely.

    He's had several teams sniffing him out thus far.

    At the moment it's not enough to make them bite, but more than likely they're seeing if he can fill in at a pinch, were someone to get injured.

    The NFL being what it is, an injury is nigh on inevitable. And at that point, his experience and ability to slide into complex and multiple-look schemes will serve him well.

    It's just a matter of time.

Troy Smith, Quarterback

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    Troy Smith has a few things on his side.

    He's 27, which means he's still got time to improve (assuming you're happy with a a Kurt Warner time frame, anyway).

    He's thrown more touchdowns than interceptions, which puts him in a tier above some ex-backups and journeymen quarterbacks who have jobs at the moment.

    He's athletic and makes enough plays with his feet to make up somewhat for his  below-50 percent passing percentage. That explains why he's got more wins under his belt than he perhaps should.

    If a team were looking for a quarterback who is somewhere between a young project and an experienced journeyman, they could do worse than Smith.

Max Starks, Tackle

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    Only a few months ago, Max Starks started in his third Super Bowl at left tackle.

    Now he's trying to figure out why he got cut in July.

    He's not particularly old, being 29. He's given up sacks, but part of that is Ben Roethlisberger's penchant for holding on to the ball too long. Part of it is the fact that Roethlisberger rolls out of the pocket as often as not, thus making the arrangement of protection schemes a nightmare.

    At least some of it is that he was in the middle of a $26.4 million, four-year contract.

    Whatever it is, teams now have the ability to hire a tackle who has blocked for such eminent rushers as Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall.

    Surely that would count for something in respect of future contract offers.

Jon Stinchcomb, Tackle

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    In some ways, Jon Stinchcomb is the victim of his own success. 

    He played himself into contention for a starting role after being a backup his first two seasons in the league.

    He further elevated himself above competition to the point he could make 80 consecutive starts for the Saints, being named Man of the Year in 2008 and getting a Pro Bowl berth in 2009. 

    But then he made an error of sorts by playing injured in 2010.

    For obvious reasons his performance wasn't quite up to his own standards, so the Saints decided to part ways with him after the first preseason game of 2011.

    Being deemed not up to his own prior performance isn't the same as being deemed awful. He's likely still good enough to play somewhere in some capacity, and every sack of a highly expensive quarterback during the preseason drills the importance of a tackle into the general manager's minds.

    Unless GMs want their quarterbacks to pull double-duty as pinatas, Stinchcomb's likely to find himself a job somewhere soon.

Lofa Tatupu, Middle Linebacker

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    Lofa Tatupu wasn't cut, nor was he completely unwanted by the Seattle Seahawks. Unlike some of the people on this list, it was purely a money issue.

    In saying that, Tatupu is, sadly, not quite the player he was before he was injured in 2009.

    He toiled away through 2010, starting every game, but didn't seem quite the livewire he was his rookie season. It's the lack of explosion that made the Seahawks lower their estimations of his value to the franchise.

    Clearly Tatupu believes he's worth more than they offered. Perhaps some other franchise will agree in the near future and offer him the contract consideration he's after. Or perhaps he'll lower his asking price once it's clear teams would be happy moving on without him.

    Either way, it's unlikely that he'll sit out the 2011 season in its entirety.

    Getting paid less is better than getting paid nothing at all, especially for an athlete who is only 28. He would damage his long-term earning ability if he sat out a season at this point, so he'll probably ask for a career-resurrection contract (short-term, low pricetag) just to get his name back out there. 

Brian Waters, Guard

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    Brian Waters has a fantastic resume.

    He's a five-time Pro Bowler (2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010).

    Two-time All-Pro (2004, 2005).

    Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award winner, 2008.

    The only offensive lineman to ever win a Offensive Player of the Week award (after the Chiefs ran in eight touchdowns in one game).

    Consider the success of the guys he's blocked for too: Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones.

    I don't think I really need to weigh the pros and cons.

    He was considered to be of Pro Bowl ability only a few months ago and is clearly a top-notch teammate. He'll find a team.

Brian Westbrook, Running Back

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    Around this time last year, Brian Westbrook was unemployed. 

    Then Glen Coffee suddenly decided to up sticks and retire, and the 49ers had a gaping hole as the backup to Frank Gore.

    Enter Bryan Westbrook.

    At the time, it seemed like the 49ers had picked him up with the intent on him being the third-down running back complement to the almost-every-down Fred Gore.

    But that plan was pancaked when Gore broke a hip, and Westbrook found himself elevated to the No. 1 slot. In his first start, Westbrook responded with aplomb, amassing an impressive 136 yards and a touchdown off 23 carries.

    Westbrook finished the season with 340 yards off 77 carries, with four touchdowns and a healthy 4.4 yard per carry average, alongside his 16 receptions for 150 yards and one touchdown. 

    While not overwhelmingly productive in comparison to some of his earlier seasons, it was impressive nonetheless, and ought to get him a look-in as an injury replacement role in parts unknown.

Elephant in the Room: Brett Favre, Quarterback

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    I loathe typing this.

    I truly do.

    But at some point this season, some general manager, somewhere (I'm looking at you, Cincinnatti Bengals), will call Brett Favre with the intent on having him sling the ol' pigskin into the hands of receivers, cornerbacks, ballboys, referees, and at the inhabitants of a nearby orphanage.

    He's retired. But we know what that's worth (read: as much as the concept of "dignity" does to Lindsay Lohan).

    What's perhaps more terrifying is that he might actually play well enough to make him ponder an unretirement at some point next season.

    And that's truly terrifying, indeed.