7 Bargain-Bin Free Agents Who Can Solve Roster Issues in 2023February 3, 2023
7 Bargain-Bin Free Agents Who Can Solve Roster Issues in 2023
While the top NFL free agents will weigh their options with multiple contract offers on the table, general managers can get the most bang for their cap-space dollars with bargain-bin pickups. Players who didn't quite fulfill expectations with the team that drafted them, bounced around the league or lost snaps in a crowded rotation can become steals on the open market.
Last offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs signed JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year, $3.8 million contract, and he finished second on the team in catches (78) and receiving yards (933).
The Chiefs capitalized on Smith-Schuster's low market value after he played in just five games with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. In hindsight, they made a shrewd move that helped them fill a void at wide receiver following their decision to trade Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. He outperformed teammate Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract.
Who are the potential low-cost, high-reward free agents for the 2023 offseason?
We took a look at various position groups to highlight seven players who could fill starting spots at a relatively cheap cost. Oddly enough, our list includes a couple of former first-round picks.
QB Baker Mayfield
In 2022, Baker Mayfield made three stops across the league. He went through a portion of the offseason with the Cleveland Browns, and they traded him to the Carolina Panthers, who waived him in December. The Los Angeles Rams claimed Mayfield, and he had a decent showing as a fill-in for Matthew Stafford.
In five games (four starts) with the Rams, Mayfield threw for 850 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions with a 63.6 percent completion rate. He went 1-3 as a starter in Los Angeles but posted decent passing numbers without starting wideouts Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson II.
Under Rams head coach Sean McVay, Mayfield likely salvaged his declining free-agent market value, though he's still unlikely to command a lucrative deal after a flameout in Cleveland and his struggles as a six-game starter with the Panthers (1,313 passing yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions with a 57.8 percent completion rate).
Nonetheless, the Washington Commanders, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Las Vegas Raiders and the entire NFC South division need a starting quarterback, though obviously Mayfield isn't going back to Carolina.
With a quality offensive coordinator, Mayfield can post solid passing numbers as he did under McVay. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hire an offensive play-caller, they have a situation that makes sense for the free-agent quarterback.
Tampa Bay holds the 19th overall pick in the 2023 draft. So, without a move up, they're out of position to select a top quarterback prospect. Following Tom Brady's retirement announcement, the club only has one quarterback under contract in Kyle Trask, and he's thrown just nine passes in the regular season.
By the way, Spotrac estimates Mayfield will command $6.5 million on the open market. In Tampa Bay, on a modest deal, he could go into the 2023 campaign as arguably the best quarterback in the NFC South.
Remember, Mayfield won a playoff game with the Browns two years ago, and he has a decent career touchdown-to-interception ratio (102-64).
RB Myles Gaskin
The Miami Dolphins' new regime led by head coach Mike McDaniel phased out Myles Gaskin, divvying up the bulk of their carries between Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Chase Edmonds, though they opted to trade Edmonds in the Bradley Chubb deal before the deadline.
Gaskin only suited up for four games through the 2022 season. Miami listed him as a healthy scratch for several weeks and then placed the running back on injured reserve (shoulder) late in December. He finished the campaign with 14 touches for 54 scrimmage yards.
At his next stop, Gaskin will likely take on a role within a backfield committee, but he's capable of leading a platoon in a three-down role. Between 2020 and 2021, Gaskin racked up 1,818 yards and 12 touchdowns from scrimmage, though he did lose three out of four fumbles.
If an offensive play-caller doesn't see Gaskin's size (5'10" 194 lbs) and occasional ball-security issues as reasons to limit his workload, he can handle 12-15 touches per game for a team that wants a complete back at a bargain.
Perhaps the Arizona Cardinals show interest in pairing Gaskin with a stout 6'1", 233-pound ball-carrier in James Conner for a solid one-two punch out of the backfield while quarterback Kyler Murray recovers from a torn ACL.
WR Darius Slayton
This offseason, teams won't see any marquee wide receivers in their prime hit the open market. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jakobi Meyers, Allen Lazard and DJ Chark may generate the most buzz at the position.
Spotrac projects Darius Slayton will command $3.5 million on the open market, which is quite the steal for any team that needs a solid No. 2 receiver.
As a fifth-rounder from the 2019 draft, Slayton led the New York Giants in receiving yards in three of his four seasons with the team, racking up 724-plus yards in 2019, 2020 and 2022. Furthermore, he's a big-play wideout who averages 15 yards per catch. This past campaign, he registered a career-high 64.8 percent catch rate.
If Big Blue doesn't re-sign Slayton, the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens should all offer him a contract. In 2022, all three teams ranked 20th or worse in yards gained per completion. If the Colts and Texans find a viable young quarterback, Slayton would give him a veteran receiver who can stretch the field.
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
For the first five years of his NFL career, Jermaine Eluemunor played in a reserve role at guard and tackle with the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots, but he made the most of a starting opportunity at right tackle this past season.
In 2022 with the Las Vegas Raiders, Eluemunor allowed just three sacks in 940 snaps, per Pro Football Focus. On the flip side, he committed 10 penalties and even tweeted an apology for one of his infractions after a Week 4 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Overall, Eluemunor showed he can handle a lead role at a premium position. If the Raiders don't re-sign him, the versatile 28-year-old offensive lineman should garner a fair amount of interest on the open market. Yet because of his track record as a backup, he may need another solid campaign to draw lucrative contract offers. Spotrac projects that he'll command $5.6 million in free agency.
Whether Eluemunor re-signs with Las Vegas or goes elsewhere, he's someone to monitor with a trajectory that's trending in the right direction.
EDGE Marcus Davenport
Marcus Davenport hasn't played up to his first-round draft status, and he's coming off his least productive season, logging 29 tackles, two for loss, 14 pressures and a half-sack.
With star pass-rusher Cameron Jordan on one side of the defensive line and 2021 first-rounder Payton Turner on the other end, the New Orleans Saints will likely allow Davenport to sign elsewhere after an underwhelming campaign.
In five seasons with the Saints, Davenport has played in 63 games with 32 starts. In 2018 and 2020, he served in mostly a backup role. On top of that, the athletic edge-rusher has missed significant time because of injuries. The 26-year-old has sat out at least three games in all but one term.
On a positive note, Davenport has shown flashes when healthy. In 2019 and 2021, he started in 22 out of 24 contests and registered 70 tackles, 14 for loss, 15 sacks and 47 pressures.
In order to preserve Davenport's health for the duration of a full season, a team can plug him into a designated pass-rushing role. Perhaps he can max out his potential with a reduced workload.
Davenport could stay within the NFC South and strengthen the Atlanta Falcons' pass rush after they finished last in pressure rate (14.6 percent) for the 2022 season.
Last week, Atlanta hired Ryan Nielsen, who served as a defensive line coach, assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator for the Saints between 2017 and 2022. He may want to bring Davenport with him.
LB Azeez Al-Shaair
Over the past few years, the San Francisco 49ers have fielded arguably the best linebacker group with two-time All-Pro Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair in the middle of their defense.
Warner has developed into one of the best off-ball linebackers across the league, and Greenlaw has become a three-down defender who's a tackling machine (127 tackles in 2022).
In today's league, most defensive coordinators field their nickel defense more than their base unit to combat pass-heavy offensive attacks, which only leaves room for two linebackers with an extra defensive back in the secondary. As a result, Al-Shaair has often been the third wheel when Warner and Greenlaw are healthy.
With that said, Al-Shaair has made his presence felt when he's in between the white lines.
Greenlaw missed 14 games in 2021, and Al-Shaair filled in for him, recording 102 tackles, nine for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups and an interception in 13 starts. With the Greenlaw back in action for 15 outings this past season, Al-Shaair played just 42 percent of the defensive snaps in 12 games.
Al-Shaair could blossom into a top-tier linebacker with a new team that needs to rebuild its linebacker corps. One such team could be the Las Vegas Raiders, which have four players at the position (Divine Deablo, Luke Masterson, Darien Butler and Kana'i Mauga) who are under contract but possess limited or no starting experience.
CB Greedy Williams
Greedy Williams fell out of favor in the Cleveland Browns' cornerback rotation because of recent injuries and competition for snaps in the secondary.
The Browns' previous regime led by John Dorsey selected Williams in the second round of the 2019 draft. Cleveland hired a new general manager in Andrew Berry, whose administration added Greg Newsome II (2021 first-rounder) and Martin Emerson Jr. (2022 third-rounder) over the past two drafts.
Keep in mind that Williams missed the entire 2020 campaign with a shoulder injury. In the following term, he started in half of his 16 appearances while Newsome played with the first-stringers in 11 out of 12 contests.
Williams opened the 2022 term on injured reserve (hamstring). He started in just one out of 11 outings, while Emerson lined up with the first unit in six out of 17 games.
Clearly on the outs in Cleveland, Williams needs a change of scenery. If he can stay healthy, the 6'2", 185-pound cornerback can start for a team that needs size and length on the boundary.
After a lost 2020 season, Williams recorded 10 pass breakups and two interceptions while allowing a 55.2 percent completion rate and a 74 passer rating in 2021. With the addition of Newsome and Emerson, he didn't have much opportunity to build on that solid campaign, though.
With only 21 starts on his resume, Williams has more room for development. The Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans finished with bottom-three pass defenses in yards allowed for the 2022 term. All three should kick the tires on a 25-year-old cornerback with flashes of starting potential.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.