2015 NFL Free Agency: Each Team's Best Remaining Free Agent
The NFL's free-agent period opened up with a bang, as the first (tidal-sized) wave sent reverberations throughout the league. The second wave took more competent players off the market, and now we're here in April, with the draft rapidly approaching and the market appearing rather bare.
But there is still a cavalcade of serviceable players who remain unsigned but can still help teams win in 2015, and in this column, we'll examine the best remaining option on each team.
In compiling each name, we perused the number of free agents still remaining for each team and chose the best one based on past performance, age and experience. Some were easy (Michael Vick for the New York Jets) while others were significantly more difficult (hello, Baltimore Ravens).
Here is every team's best remaining option on the open market in 2015 NFL free agency.
Arizona Cardinals: Pass-Rusher John Abraham
Free-agent pass-rusher John Abraham has had a stellar NFL career—and with 133.5 sacks to his name, he'll be a candidate for Canton when he hangs up the cleats.
Injuries limited Abraham to only one game last season for the Cardinals, but it stands to reason that he still has gas left in the tank, as he garnered 11.5 sacks in his last full season (2013).
While Abraham is clearly no longer the player he once was, NFL teams are always in need of situational pass-rushers—especially those with a proven pedigree and track record. He'd be a fine addition to a playoff-caliber team in need of extra oomph in the front seven.
Atlanta Falcons: Running Back Steven Jackson
Earlier this offseason, the Atlanta Falcons released running back Steven Jackson, ending his two-year tenure with the team. At age 31—and after averaging only 3.7 yards per carry last year—he's likely nearing the end of the road.
But the bottom line is that Jackson is still a serviceable player and could provide a team with reliability and leadership at the position. He won't be a team's unquestioned starter, but in the event of injury, Jackson could capably step in and perform.
Jackson has always possessed pass-catching ability, and given his size (6'3", 230), he should be able to succeed in short-yardage situations. Look for him to join a team at some point before the start of the season.
Baltimore Ravens: RB Ray Rice
While it was difficult to include running back Ray Rice on this list because of his involvement in a domestic violence case involving his then-fiance (and now wife), a quick perusal of Baltimore's free agents dictates that Rice is the correct pick.
Rice missed the entire 2014 season due to fallout from his domestic situation, and he looked brutal in 2013, averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. But it's within the realm of possibility that a year off could have helped Rice recharge his collective battery and that he could once again be productive at the NFL level.
It's unclear if a team would opt to give Rice a shot, and at age 28, it's probable that Rice will never reach the heights he did in Baltimore again. But this is the NFL, so nothing can be counted out. It shouldn't shock if Rice eventually agrees to terms with a team this offseason.
Buffalo Bills: LB Brandon Spikes
When it comes to run-stuffing linebackers, Brandon Spikes—who played last season for the Buffalo Bills—is among the league's best.
Last year, he finished as Pro Football Focus' seventh-best inside linebacker against the run and finished first overall in that category in 2013. While he's a liability in pass coverage—and thus a two-down player—Spikes is a true difference-maker when it comes to stopping the opposing ground game.
Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle recently wrote that it's highly unlikely that Spikes will return to Buffalo, so he'll have to ply his run-stopping wares elsewhere. He's only 27, so he'll definitely catch on somewhere.
Carolina Panthers: LB Chase Blackburn
Free-agent linebacker Chase Blackburn played a vital role in the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI win over the Patriots, intercepting a Tom Brady pass in the second half. But his career hasn't reached those dizzying heights since, and injures limited him to only six games last season in Carolina.
But Blackburn is only 31 and has proven to be a serviceable NFL player. He could bring veteran leadership, savvy and moxie to a team in need of depth at the linebacker position.
Chicago Bears: LB Lance Briggs
Longtime Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs has authored an exceptional NFL career, earning seven trips to the Pro Bowl and solidifying himself as one of the best defensive players in the proud history of the franchise.
But Briggs (34) is a free agent and won't be returning to Chicago as new coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace begin their rebuild of the team. He did recently visit with the 49ers, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.
Briggs is no longer the force he once was, but he's still a savvy player capable of making a big play in a big spot. He's also a fantastic on-field general. Expect him to find work soon.
Cincinnati Bengals: TE Jermaine Gresham
Since being selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, Jermaine Gresham has served as the primary tight end of the Cincinnati Bengals. But he's now a free agent and has the stigma of offseason back surgery looming over him.
Gresham engaged in talks with the Raiders earlier in the offseason, and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis hasn't ruled out bringing Gresham back. He won't be a free agent for too much longer.
While Gresham never evolved into an excellent pass-catcher—his career high for catches in a season is 64 (2012)—he is an outstanding blocker and can contribute greatly in the run game.
He's not a true difference-maker, but Gresham does possess a skill set valued by NFL teams.
Cleveland Browns: None
Per NFL.com's free-agent tracker, the Cleveland Browns have only one unsigned free agent: safety Jim Leonhard.
However, any team seeking to sign Leonhard should be aware of one extremely important fact: He's retiring, meaning he won't be suiting up for anyone.
Leonhard spoke to Kevin Jones of ClevelandBrowns.com prior to the team's season finale and said, "I’ve got a lot of respect for this game, and I don’t want to do it any other way. I know I could continue to play – the way I’m playing and how I feel … but I’m to that point where I’m ready to move on.”
Leonhard's retirement leaves the Browns with zero remaining unsigned players.
Dallas Cowboys: DE Anthony Spencer
Back in 2012, Anthony Spencer played well enough for the Dallas Cowboys—notching 11 sacks—that he was hit with the franchise tag.
But the last two seasons haven't gone as well as 2012, as Spencer has a grand total of half a sack since his sterling 2012 season. Micofracture surgery limited him to only one game in 2013, and he hasn't looked like the same player.
The Saints did show interest in Spencer, and NFL teams love them some pass-rushers. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Spencer could resurrect his career, and if he can even bring half the sack total that he accumulated in 2012, he'd be an extremely worthy signing.
Denver Broncos: WR Wes Welker
Free-agent wide receiver Wes Welker has forged an incredible career—made all the more astounding by the fact that he went undrafted back in 2004.
Welker has been selected to five Pro Bowls and twice made first-team All-Pro (2009 and 2011), and he has recorded more than 100 receptions in a season five times.
But he's been limited to only 122 catches over the past two seasons in Denver and has had issues with concussions. Plus, he will be 34 years old in May, so his best days are clearly behind him.
It's possible that Welker has reached the end of the line, but if he does play in 2015, he'll provide a reliable option over the middle of the field—and a valuable security blanket for his quarterback.
Detroit Lions: DT C.J. Mosley
Last season, Detroit Lions defensive tackle C.J. Mosley was a major reason why the team finished as the league's top-ranked defense against the run. He started eight games in place of the injured Nick Fairley.
It's certainly curious that the Lions—who lost defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh (Miami) and Nick Fairley (St. Lois) in free agency—haven't attempted to bring Mosley back, but Kyle Meinke of MLive.com surmised that Mosley's one-game suspension last season due to marijuana use is hurting his cause.
But still, Mosley brings value as a run-stuffing force in the middle of a defensive line, and while he's 31, the league always has a need for big bodies to stop the opposing ground game.
Green Bay Packers: QB Matt Flynn
Earlier this offseason, the Green Bay Packers re-signed backup quarterback Scott Tolzien to a one-year deal. And as Tom Silverstein of the Journal-Sentinel wrote, that means fellow signal-caller Matt Flynn won't be brought back to Lambeau.
Flynn has had an interesting NFL career, as he's been signed by two separate teams (Seattle and Oakland) to be "the guy" only to be released shortly thereafter. But he has achieved success as Aaron Rodgers' backup in Green Bay, famously throwing for six touchdowns in the 2011 season finale.
Back in 2013, Flynn started four games in place of an injured Rodgers and went 2-2, throwing seven touchdown passes against four interceptions. He's not a franchise-caliber quarterback but is definitely a capable backup.
Houston Texans: C Chris Myers
When the Houston Texans released two-time Pro Bowl center Chris Myers, he immediately became one of the top offensive linemen on the market. And while he hasn't yet been signed, that doesn't mean he won't be in the near future—and that he won't earn significant playing time in 2015.
Myers is 33 and finished 2014 ranked as Pro Football Focus' 16th-best center. He's a road grader in the run game and profiles well in a zone-blocking scheme—one in which he's excelled at during his career.
Myers recently visited with the Seahawks, but it's unclear if he'll sign with the defending NFC champions. Regardless, any team that brings in Myers will be getting a center with experience and past success underneath his belt.
Indianapolis Colts: WR Hakeem Nicks
Back in 2011, receiver Hakeem Nicks helped lead the Giants to a Super Bowl championship with a sterling postseason performance.
But since that run, things haven't gone according to plan for Nicks, who only has seven touchdown receptions combined over the past three seasons. Last year in Indianapolis, Nicks only hauled in 38 passes, although he did catch a touchdown pass in the postseason.
Now, Nicks is once again a free agent, and at age 27, it's fair to wonder if he'll ever regain the sparkling form he reached as a Giant. He recently visited with the 49ers, per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.
Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Geno Hayes
Quick: If I were to ask you if Jacksonville Jaguars free-agent Geno Hayes was one of the 12 best 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL last year, would you believe me?
That's exactly where Pro Football Focus has Hayes ranked—as the 12th-best 4-3 outside linebacker, with "plus" grades in both pass-rushing and stopping the run. Hayes is only 27 years old.
The Jaguars opted to sign linebacker Dan Skuta in free agency, which would seemingly indicate that Hayes' time in Duval County has reached a conclusion. But given his performance in 2014, he'll find work at some point soon.
Kansas City Chiefs: OT Ryan Harris
Kansas City Chiefs free-agent offensive tackle Ryan Harris started 15 games for the club last season—and at age 30, it would seem that he still has good football left ahead of him.
Harris is slated to hit the free-agent market, and there's always a market for the services of a competent tackle. But Harris really didn't play all that well in 2014, finishing the year ranked as Pro Football Focus' 38th-best tackle.
Harris finished with negative grades in both run and pass blocking, and he has played a full 16-game season only four times in eight years. But his experience (54 career starts) means he'll likely get another shot, and teams could do worse.
Miami Dolphins: RB Knowshon Moreno
Last offseason, the Miami Dolphins signed former Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno in the hopes he could import the dazzling play he displayed in Denver.
But things didn't go according to plan, as injuries limited Moreno to three games and 148 yards rushing. Now at age 27, it's fair to wonder if Moreno will ever get the chance to be the leading man in a backfield again.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald recently reported that the Dolphins could have interest in bringing Moreno back, but the expectation should be that he isn't signed until after this month's draft. When right, Moreno is a solid runner, pass-catcher and pass protector.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Greg Jennings
Jennings only caught 127 passes in two seasons in the Twin Cities, and at age 31, he's not the player he once was in Green Bay when he was hauling in receptions from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. But he's still a reliable option, and it stands to reason that he could contribute next season.
A team that makes a lot of sense could be the Dolphins, as their head coach—Joe Philbin—was with Jennings in Green Bay. There's no reason why Jennings can't fashion a respectable season in 2015.
New England Patriots: RB Stevan Ridley
Free-agent running back Stevan Ridley has had a decent NFL career, owning an average of 4.3 yards per carry over four seasons with the Patriots. But injuries limited him to only six games last season, and he's also had issues with fumbling that landed him in coach Bill Belichick's doghouse on multiple occasions.
Ridley has taken visits with the Jets and Dolphins, and per Manish Mehta and Seth Walder of the Daily News, Ridley will sign with one of those teams.
While Ridley is not an adept pass-catcher, he has proven that he can move the chains when rushing the football, and backs of his caliber are always welcome on NFL rosters.
New Orleans Saints: RB Pierre Thomas
New Orleans Saints free-agent running back Pierre Thomas is one of the most underrated players in the history of the franchise, and his contributions towards the club's 2009 Super Bowl triumph should never be minimized.
Although injuries limited him to 11 games last year (three starts), Thomas still rushed for 4.9 yards per carry and caught 45 passes. Thomas is one of the best running backs at catching and executing the screen pass that we've seen in the past 15 years.
Thomas is 30, which has emerged as the line of demarcation for running back productivity, but his pass-catching ability is extraordinary and should earn him a spot on an NFL roster—but likely not until after this month's draft. John Keim of ESPN.com mentioned the Redskins as a team that could have interest in Thomas.
New York Giants: Safety Stevie Brown
Free-agent safety Stevie Brown started eight games last year for the Giants, finishing the year ranked as Pro Football Focus' 47th-best safety.
While Brown hasn't yet come close to replicating his outstanding 2012 season—in which he intercepted eight passes and forced two fumbles—it's worth noting that he's only 27, so it stands to reason that he still has a shot. He possesses natural playmaking ability and has a nose for the football.
Last month, Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reported that the Giants were talking to Brown about returning, but it's unclear if that will come to fruition.
New York Jets: QB Michael Vick
There's only one name remaining on the free-agent market at quarterback that carries any sizzle: Michael Vick of the New York Jets.
And while Vick is now 34 and well past his prime, he's still a viable backup option who deserves a spot on an NFL roster.
Last season for the Jets, Vick started three games (he went 1-2) and tossed three touchdown passes against two interceptions. His accuracy wasn't razor-sharp—he completed just 52 percent of his passes—but his trademark speed was still on display, as he rushed for 5.9 yards per carry.
Vick's career might be on life support, but the smart money is on a quarterback-needy team bringing him in. Clubs could do worse than trotting Vick out for a few games if their starter goes down due to injury.
Oakland Raiders: C Stefen Wisniewski
Since being selected by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 2011 draft, center Stefen Wisniewski has started all 61 games in which he appeared in. Last year, he finished ranked as Pro Football Focus' 22nd-best center.
Wisniewski is young (26), has experience and is excellent in the run game. While his pass-blocking isn't superb, his overall skill set is impressive, and he hasn't exactly played on powerhouse teams while in Oakland.
The likely reason why Wisniewski remains on the market is because he underwent offseason shoulder surgery, per Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com. The Patriots, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Rams, Chiefs and Bears have all expressed interest in Wisniewski.
Philadelphia Eagles: TE James Casey
Tight end/fullback James Casey had a wonderful season with the Texans in 2012, catching 34 passes (including three touchdown grabs). His performance in that campaign earned him a free-agent deal with the Eagles.
But after two underwhelming seasons in Philadelphia, Casey was released, and he remains on the free-agent market. His hybrid skill set—he is proficient both catching the football and serving as a fullback—means he has value to NFL teams and will certainly be signed at some point.
Casey has had visits with the Cardinals, Broncos, Titans and Browns, but he has yet to sign with a team. That formality should occur after this month's draft.
Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Ben Tate
Last season, running back Ben Tate finished his season as the starting running back of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, he started the year as Cleveland's top back before he was released during the campaign and also had a stint in Minnesota.
There's no sugarcoating the fact (and hey, he did play for three teams, which does not speak well to his production) that Tate had a miserable season—he averaged a paltry 3.1 yards per carry. But he had authored a few successful seasons before that in Houston, averaging 4.3 yards per carry in both 2012 and 2013.
Perhaps he's miscast as a lead back, but Tate still has value, particularly in a backup role in a zone-blocking scheme. He's only 26, so there's still gas left in the tank.
San Diego Chargers: Pass-Rusher Dwight Freeney
Free-agent defensive end Dwight Freeney spent the first 11 years of his career in Indianapolis, racking up 107 sacks and earning seven trips to the Pro Bowl.
While he struggled over the last two seasons in San Diego—he only accumulated four sacks—he still has the skills to help a team. And is it outside the realm of possibility that a playoff-bound team (say, perhaps, the Colts) signs Freeney to add pass-rushing oomph?
Freeney is 35, and his best days are clearly behind him, but he can still get the job done as a situational pass-rusher. And there's always a need for successful situational pass-rushers in today's NFL.
San Francisco 49ers: WR Michael Crabtree
Perhaps the best and most ballyhooed option remaining on the free-agent market—regardless of position—is San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree.
The former 10th overall pick of the 2010 draft had six up-and-down seasons in the Bay Area, with his postseason runs in 2012 and 2013 serving as his magnum opus. But Crabtree struggled mightily in 2014, catching only 68 passes for 698 yards and four touchdown receptions.
Crabtree is only 27, and speed has never been his game, so he's still viable. It's somewhat surprising that he remains on the market, but Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reported that Crabtree will wait however long it takes to find an "appealing situation."
Crabtree visited the Dolphins and the Raiders have also expressed interest, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
Seattle Seahawks: DT Kevin Williams
It seems as if former Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Kevin Williams has been around forever—which makes sense, considering the big man (6'5", 310 pounds) is 34 years old.
And Williams can still get it done as a situational run-stuffer, finishing 2014 ranked as Pro Football Focus' 40th-best defensive tackle.
At his best, Williams was a dominant force for the Vikings. Those days are long gone, but Williams still has value, and with 179 career starts, he brings experience and veteran leadership to the table. Expect him to sign with a team after the draft and be deployed as a weapon against opposing rushing attacks.
St. Louis Rams: OT Jake Long
Although offensive tackle Jake Long has never fulfilled the massive expectations that come along with being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft (as he was in 2008), he has still fashioned a pretty good career with stops in Miami and St. Louis.
But an ACL tear limited him to only seven games last season for the Rams, and at age 29, he remains on the free-agent market.
Long has missed time due to injury in each of the last four years, but he has four Pro Bowl berths on his resume. He's not the player he once was, but his pedigree and experience (95 career starts) mean he'll surely be signed, but probably not until after this month's draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Anthony Collins
Last offseason, Tampa Bay lavished offensive tackle Anthony Collins with a big-money deal, and it looked as if Collins would be a Buccaneer for years to come.
But Collins was released after just one season with the team and now finds himself back on the free-agent market. Indeed, Collins finished 2014 ranked as Pro Football Focus' 63rd-ranked tackle. And no, that's not good.
Collins is still only 29 and his experience (25 career starts) means he'll get another shot elsewhere. Despite his brutal 2014 campaign, he's one of the better free agents remaining on the market.
Tennessee Titans: S Bernard Pollard
Earlier this offseason, the Tennessee Titans released Bernard Pollard, sending the 30-year-old safety to the free-agent market.
Pollard has earned a reputation as a fearsome hitter and is perhaps best known for knocking Patriots quarterback Tom Brady out for the entire 2008 season in Week 1. He finished 2014 ranked as Pro Football Focus' 36th-best safety.
Pollard has 12 career interceptions and 106 starts to his name, so he'll surely be signed at some point this offseason. He'll bring an intimidating presence to any secondary he links up with.
Washington Redskins: S Brandon Meriweather
Last season, Washington Redskins free-agent safety Brandon Meriweather earned a positive grade against the run via Pro Football Focus—and was the 12th-ranked safety in the NFL in that category.
The 31-year-old Meriweather also forced three fumbles for the Redskins, but a toe injury forced him to miss the season's final three games. He was suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season due to illegal hits, so he does bring that risk.
Meriweather isn't nearly the player he once was, but he's decent enough to merit a look. He's a very hard hitter and would bring an imposing presence to a secondary.