NFL Free Agents Who Could Still Receive Training Camp Invites
We’re in the dead period before the NFL starts back up with training camp over the summer. When teams get back into the swing of things, there will be injuries and disappointing players that must be upgraded. This is when the final wind of free agency will happen.
For one reason or another, there are always several talented veterans available as training camp nears. It happens every year. Some players benefit from waiting for injuries to occur or their own injuries to heal. Then they can step into a major role.
The caliber of free agents still available is pretty impressive. Some of the players mentioned in the forthcoming slides should receive a guaranteed contract for 2015, and maybe beyond.
Let’s take a look at eight NFL free agents who could still receive a training camp invite. Some are likely to receive contracts, while the rest should have a flier taken on their talents.
Evan Mathis, Guard
By far, the best free agent available is former All-Pro guard Evan Mathis. Mathis, 33, is a short-term option for contending teams that run a zone-blocking system. With the Philadelphia Eagles, Mathis earned his reputation as an impact run-blocker and consistent pass-blocker.
Advanced stats really love Mathis’ consistency. Pro Football Focus has graded Mathis as the best left guard in the NFL for the past four seasons. Over that same time frame, Mathis hasn’t graded negatively in a significant way in any one particular game.
Whoever adds Mathis will need to slide the center his way in pass protection, but that’s normal for offenses to do anyway. The left guard normally receives help, while the right guard is on an island. But there’s little downside besides the cost it’ll take to sign Mathis.
James Jones, Wide Receiver
A surprising veteran release this offseason was former Packers and Raiders wide receiver, James Jones. Jones was miscast as the No. 1 receiver for Oakland last season, but he still averaged almost five catches and 42 yards a game.
He isn’t dynamic or explosive, but as a slot receiver, Jones can be effective. He’s 31 years old, meaning he could have another two seasons left in the tank. With Oakland now looking to win, this was a release that made little sense.
Teams that need a plug and play rotational receiver should be interested in Jones. His professionalism and experience in a variety of roles will help his value in 2015. His game tape last season certainly indicated that Jones can continue to produce in a proper role.
Bernard Pollard, Safety
After suffering an Achilles’ tear early in 2014, Bernard Pollard’s career is in jeopardy. At 30 years old, Pollard has never been an especially good coverage defender. But his reputation as a hard-hitting box safety is well earned.
Pollard plays the run extremely well. He’s another linebacker on the field, and a solid blitzer when he attacks the line of scrimmage. The offense must always know where he is before the snap.
If Pollard is able to get back to pre-injury form, he’d be a solid short-term signing. He can impact the game as a starter, even if he’s more of a traditional strong safety and not the rangy, coverage type.
Jermaine Gresham, Tight End
The 26-year-old Jermaine Gresham has already been in the league five seasons, but he hasn’t been able to deliver on the promise he showed at Oklahoma. The former first-round pick had back surgery earlier this offseason and is now waiting to fully recover before signing with a team.
For teams that need a secondary option at tight end, Gresham is worth signing. He’s not dynamic, but he has averaged almost four receptions and 37 yards per game in his career. Don’t forget, those numbers also came in a loaded offense that spread the ball around.
Obviously his health is going to be the key if he's to find success in 2015, but Gresham should have numerous suitors. He is a good blocker and decent receiver. For most teams, that’s good enough to be the second tight end on the roster.
Chris Myers, Center
When the Houston Texans released center Chris Myers, the team ended a successful seven-year partnership. Myers was one of the best zone-blocking centers in the league for years. But now, at 33, Myers is looking to extend his career just a little longer.
Because of scheme dependency, Myers is going to have a shrunken market. He has played more consecutive games than any other active offensive lineman in the NFL with 153. His durability and reliability are two major selling points.
The most likely outcome for Myers is that he waits for training camp to get started. He might be able to find a team needing a center. Failing that, he could fill a backup guard role.
Anthony Collins, Offensive Tackle
Two years ago, Anthony Collins was a valuable swing tackle with the Cincinnati Bengals. He then left and signed a five-year, $30 million contract to be the right tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014. Things went south quickly, as Collins played poorly and had locker room issues.
Collins is now available, likely for a bargain price. He must rehabilitate his image, meaning a one-year, prove-it deal should be his demand.
As a reserve player, Collins excelled for the Bengals. That should be his role in 2015. The shortage of quality tackles across the league is alarming, making Collins an even more worthy signing.
Da’Quan Bowers, Defensive Tackle
At just 25 years old, it is surprising to see Da’Quan Bowers without an NFL home. He hasn’t been as effective as the pre-draft hype had sold, but he showed promise as a defensive tackle on passing downs.
Now weighing 275 pounds, Bowers is a rotational nickel-rusher. He doesn’t have the speed or bend to play at defensive end and be effective, which is partially why he has just seven career sacks.
Bowers should have an opportunity to earn more nickel snaps somewhere, though. His value to a 4-3 defense in 300-500 snaps could be significant. Hopefully he will get the chance to show off his skill set inside as a tackle.
Mike Pollak, Guard
For teams that miss out on Evan Mathis, there’s another veteran guard that could potentially slide in as a starter. Former Cincinnati Bengals guard Mike Pollak is 30 years old, but is coming off a season in which he played in 12 games. His play was solid, and worthy of a new contract.
Pollak is more of a pass-blocker than anything, as he didn’t give up a sack in 2014. But his best role is a spot starter that can play at both guard positions. Many teams lack quality depth along the offensive line, so Pollak should be receiving a call the moment an injury happens.
The one caveat with Pollak is that he decided to retire earlier this offseason. Still, a guard-needy team should put in a call to see if he has any interest in playing any more. His recent play suggests he could still be quite solid.
All stats used are from sports-reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.