Available NFL Free Agents Who Can Still Be 2015 Key Contributors

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IApril 17, 2015

Available NFL Free Agents Who Can Still Be 2015 Key Contributors

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Excitement for the 2015 NFL draft is starting to build. Less than two weeks remain before the league’s annual selection meeting, where former college players join the 32 pro rosters.

    However, there are still some experienced NFL performers out there looking for jobs, be it as starters or valuable reserves. Where do we stand with those players?

    More importantly, who is still out there on the open market who could help a club right away and make a big impact this upcoming season?

    Obviously, the list is a lot shorter than it was when free agency began on March 10. And as we have alluded to before, teams are concentrating on the draft these days, so adding a veteran may indeed come later than sooner.

    Based mainly on last year’s play as well as what they could offer in terms of experience and versatility, here are seven players who could still be significant factors for any number of teams in 2015.

WR Greg Jennings (Released by Minnesota Vikings)

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    With Cecil Shorts moving on to the Houston Texans this offseason, you would think the Jacksonville Jaguars would like to add a more experienced wide receiver to the team.

    A year ago, they selected both Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round and added Allen Hurns as an undrafted free agent.

    On Tuesday, Ryan O’Halloran of The Florida Times-Union reported that veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings had visited with the Jaguars the day before, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweeted that the nine-year pro would soon be meeting with the New Orleans Saints.

    Any player with career statistics that include 552 receptions for 8,083 yards and 63 touchdowns should be able to help a number of teams—most notably a Jaguars squad that has finished dead last in the NFL in points scored each of the last two seasons. The Minnesota Vikings cut Jennings loose this offseason despite his 127 catches in two seasons with the club.

    While veteran wideouts such as Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker remain unsigned as well, Jennings could settle on a team sooner than later.

T Joe Barksdale (UFA, St. Louis Rams)

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Joe Barksdale has played only four seasons in the NFL, and last year he was a 16-game starter at right tackle for the St. Louis Rams. It marked the first time in his brief career that the tackle managed that feat.

    Pro Football Focus tells us that while the 2011 third-round Oakland Raiders pick didn’t rank among the best players at his position overall this past season, he graded out as the league’s 11th-best run-blocking tackle. In case you’re questioning the sample size, Barksdale played 1,031 snaps for Jeff Fisher’s club in 2014.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills were near the bottom of the league this past season in terms of rushing offense and could use some help up front. A return to the Rams wouldn’t be surprising for Barksdale either.

    The bottom line here is this is a young player (27) who certainly needs some work when it comes to pass protection. However, Barksdale ranks as one of the better road-graders in the game these days.

G Justin Blalock (Released by Atlanta Falcons)

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Sometimes, the final numbers can lie.

    When you look at Pro Football Focus’ rankings of guard play in 2014, Justin Blalock comes in at No. 25. This past season, he started 15 games, lined up for 991 plays and finished with an above-average grade.

    But that number would have been considerably better if it weren’t for a disastrous afternoon against the Carolina Panthers in Week 17. Blalock was far from the only Atlanta Falcons player to struggle badly in the team’s 34-3 home loss, a setback that cost his team the NFC South title and then-head coach Mike Smith his job.

    The eight-year veteran has started in 125 of a possible 128 regular-season games and has postseason experience with the Falcons as well. It seems a matter of "when" and not "if" when it comes to him joining a team sometime this year.

C Chris Myers (Released by Houston Texans)

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks appear to still not only be looking for help at the center position but also in other starter roles up front.

    The current free-agent market includes veteran Dominic Raiola, Lyle Sendlein and Stefen Wisniewski. However, arguably the best of the bunch remains 10-year veteran Chris Myers. The two-time Pro Bowler started every game for the Houston Texans the past seven seasons and has done his due diligence this year in trying to find a new club.

    So what seems to be the holdup when it comes to a team adding the reliable Myers? According to Pro Football Focus, while the experienced pivot is one of the top run-blockers in the league at his position, his pass-protection skills left a lot to be desired in 2014.

OLB Lance Briggs (UFA, Chicago Bears)

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    In free agency, we often try to connect the dots between players and their former coaches.

    After 12 seasons in the Windy City, seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Lance Briggs is looking for work. The fact that injuries caused him to miss a combined 15 games the past two seasons—as well as the club’s switch to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio—certainly played a part in Chicago's decision not to re-sign the veteran defender.

    So is there room for the productive performer with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under head coach and former Bears sideline leader Lovie Smith? The team already has standout Lavonte David and Bruce Carter, who the Bucs signed away from the Dallas Cowboys this offseason.

    While Briggs’ days as a starter may be behind him, he offers a lot of savvy. A player with 15 sacks, 16 forced fumbles and 16 interceptions (five returned for touchdowns) in his career certainly warrants a look.

DE/OLB Mathias Kiwanuka (Released by New York Giants)

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    The career numbers are far from imposing. And in some ways, defensive end/outside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka’s nine-year stint with the New York Giants probably rates as a bit of a disappointment.

    The 2006 first-round pick totaled 38.5 sacks, three interceptions and 13 forced fumbles for head coach Tom Coughlin before his release this offseason.

    On the plus side, Kiwanuka did make 82 starts in nine seasons and saw action at both defensive end spots and both outside linebacker positions in the team’s 4-3 defense. There’s little doubt he could add something to a team looking for a backup pass-rusher to spell its starters on occasion.

    It has been a quiet market for the seasoned pro, but that could change once the draft is over.

ILB Brandon Spikes (UFA, Buffalo Bills)

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    Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    It almost seems a little odd that a player with only five seasons under his belt hasn’t found a home—more specifically, a player who can help a defensive unit that is looking to improve its play against the run.

    This past season, linebacker Brandon Spikes was one reason the Buffalo Bills finished 11th in the league in rushing defense after ranking in the bottom five in the same category for five consecutive years.

    Still, the proven defender remains unsigned. In 2014, Spikes finished sixth on the team with 54 tackles, one sack and three passes defensed. He offers too much as a run-stopper not to warrant consideration by any numbers of teams looking to upgrade the interior of their defense.

    Don’t rule out a return to the Bills as well...at the right price, of course.

    All free-agent information and player signings/transactions are courtesy of Spotrac. Depth chart information comes via Ourlads. Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro Football Reference and ESPN.com.


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