Predicting Landing Spots for Top Remaining Free Agents After the NFL Draft
A total of 253 players were selected in the 2016 NFL draft. Many more will join franchises as rookies after not being picked during the three-day event held in Chicago.
Rosters are filling up fast. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some additional experience at some clubs.
Here’s a look at more than a handful of proven veterans (listed alphabetically) that will wind up on a roster sometime soon.
While there is still a lot of talent on the free-agent market, the focus here is on those who have received some interest this offseason. For instance, despite his talents, there hasn't been a large calling for defensive end Greg Hardy.
However, there are some ideal fits between a player and team that make perfect sense for both parties.
RB Joique Bell (Released by Detroit Lions)
Cut loose by the team that finished dead last in the league in rushing this past season, running back Joique Bell still has something to offer to an organization looking for a proven commodity.
In 60 regular-season outings over the past four seasons, the former undrafted free agent from Wayne State racked up 3,875 yards from scrimmage and 23 scores with the Detroit Lions. Bell ran for only 311 yards in 13 games last season, but four of his 90 carries went for touchdowns. He also added 22 catches for 286 yards, a healthy 13 yards per reception.
There’s a team in South Florida that has spent the offseason looking for running back help. The Miami Dolphins did use a third-round pick on Alabama’s Kenyan Drake last week, but the addition of Bell will be a big plus.
Prediction: Signs with Miami Dolphins
WR Anquan Boldin (UFA: San Francisco 49ers)
The San Francisco 49ers picked 11 players in this year’s draft, but only addressed the wide receiver position once.
That would seem to indicate that there’s still room on the roster for veteran wideout Anquan Boldin, the team’s leading pass-catcher each of the past three seasons. However, Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com says that it’s “likely” that the club not only won’t be bringing back the 13-year veteran, but that Michigan State's Aaron Burbridge, a sixth-round pick in 2016, could fill his role on the offense.
The 35-year-old performer ranks 12th in league history with 1,009 catches, 17th with 13,195 receiving yards and has 74 touchdown receptions. The Windy City will prove to be a perfect landing place for Boldin, where onetime 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio now resides.
Despite adding nine players in this year’s draft, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace isn’t done tweaking his roster. On Saturday, the Associated Press (via USA Today) reported the club had released safety Antrel Rolle and guard Matt Slauson. That same day, the team announced they had added quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Signing Boldin will prove to be a solid move for a club looking to end a five-year playoff drought and will give quarterback Jay Cutler a sure-handed option.
Prediction: Signs with Chicago Bears
DT Dominique Easley (Released by New England Patriots)
Selected with the 29th overall pick in the 2014 draft, defensive tackle Dominique Easley was released by the New England Patriots on April 13.
His tenure in Foxborough added up to 22 games. The former University of Florida standout made three starts and totaled three sacks.
Less than two weeks ago, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, a onetime assistant with the Gators, had contact with a player he was familiar with.
“He is a fantastic competitor,” Quinn told Ledbetter. “Honestly, a guy I have great history with. We’ve talked since he’s been released. We’ll kind of leave it there. There’s nothing to report today. He’s someone that I think the world of.”
The team used three of their first four picks in this April’s draft on defense, but none on the defensive front. The Falcons, last in the NFL with 19 sacks and 14th in the league in rushing defense this past season, could use all the help they can get on their front seven.
Prediction: Signs with Atlanta Falcons
G Jahri Evans (Released by New Orleans Saints)
Since being cut loose by the New Orleans Saints in February, it has been a quiet market for decorated guard Jahri Evans.
After all, the six-time Pro Bowler did play in a career-low 11 games in 2015. He also had his struggles this past season, according to Pro Football Focus, especially when it came to blocking for the run. But Evans showed that he could still get the job done when it came to pass protection.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the reliable pro (who turns 33 years old on August 22) visited the Buffalo Bills back in March. The club, which led the National Football League in rushing this past year, did not address the offensive line in the draft.
General manager Doug Whaley and head coach Rex Ryan will be adding a performer who has played and started 153 regular-season games. When you consider the struggles of rookie right guard John Miller— who ranked near the bottom at his position in 2015—the move makes total sense.
Prediction: Signs with Buffalo Bills
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (UFA: New York Jets)
Game on? Not really.
The New York Jets used a second-round pick this past week on Penn State signal-caller Christian Hackenberg. He joins a quarterback depth chart that includes Geno Smith and Bryce Petty.
So what about the guy who threw for a career-high 3,905 yards in 2015 and set a Jets franchise record with 31 touchdown passes?
Never fear. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the man that general manager Mike Maccagnan wants back with the club that won 10 games this past season.
“We’re not, at this point in time, I would say, in discussions with any other teams for any other quarterbacks,” Maccagnan said during Saturday's draft proceedings, per Kimberley A. Martin of Newsday. This was in response to a report that the Jets were contemplating a move to obtain Nick Foles from the Los Angeles Rams.
“Our focus from the pro standpoint is to get Ryan back in the fold," Maccagnan added. "I’ve said that repeatedly. Nothing has changed from that standpoint.”
For those in angst over the team’s quarterback dilemma, a bit more patience must be exercised.
Prediction: Re-signs with New York Jets
CB Leon Hall (UFA: Cincinnati Bengals)
While veteran cornerback Leon Hall continues to recover from offseason back surgery—first reported by Cincinnati color analyst Dave Lapham in an interview with ESPN 1530's James Rapien—his suitors could begin adding up.
Back in April, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com reported that the 31-year-old defender—who totaled 26 interceptions in nine seasons with the Bengals—had met with the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys this offseason.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald drew the connection between Hall and current Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who coached the 2007 first-round pick the past two seasons in the Queen City.
Pro Football Focus gave Hall a positive grade for his play in 2015. In 14 contests, he totaled 55 stops, two interceptions and nine passes defensed.
The Dolphins did draft a cornerback in the second round (Baylor's Xavien Howard) but Mike Tannenbaum did deal Jamar Taylor to the Cleveland Browns this past weekend (via Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel). All told, there's a spot waiting for Hall in South Florida.
Prediction: Signs with Miami Dolphins
DE Jason Jones (UFA: Detroit Lions)
In early April, David Moore of the Dallas Morning News reported that free-agent defensive end Jason Jones was still on the Cowboys' radar, a team that the eight-year veteran visited with in late March.
Given what the team did in the draft, it would appear that there’s still a need for help at the position. Granted, the club did grab Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper in the fourth round. But this is a defensive unit that dumped opposing quarterbacks just 31 times in 2015 and will not have Demarcus Lawrence for the first four games of the season due to a league suspension, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Jones has played both defensive end and defensive tackle while totaling 28 sacks and 10 forced fumbles and knocking down 24 passes in eight seasons with the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions. He turns 30 years old on May 23, but is coming off a successful year in the Motor City.
He’s a common-sense move for a defense that ranked 17th in the league in total yards allowed in 2015.
Prediction: Signs with Dallas Cowboys
WR Roddy White (Released by Atlanta Falcons)
Call it the perfect situation.
Veteran wide receiver Roddy White is the Atlanta Falcons’ all-time leader in catches (808), receiving yards (10,863) and total touchdowns (63). But 11 years in the NFL takes its toll, and the franchise parted ways with the 34-year-old performer this offseason.
There hasn’t been a lot of interest for a player who is coming off a season in which he managed only 43 receptions for 506 yards and one score in 16 starts. However, the ideal landing place is a franchise on the rise—and one that won a division title in 2015.
Led by two-year pro Teddy Bridgewater, the Minnesota Vikings have a young and inexperienced passing attack. The team was led by rookie wideout Stefon Diggs last season with just 52 catches, good for 720 yards and four touchdowns. The club also features 26-year-old Jarius Wright, who caught 34 passes but didn’t reach the end zone in 2015. There’s also 27-year-old Charles Johnson (nine catches in 11 games this past season) and 2013 first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson, whose specialty is kickoff returns.
Now add in a pair of rookies in Laquon Treadwell, the first-round pick from Ole Miss, and Moritz Boehringer—the latter with no college playing experience.
Call White not only a needed commodity, but an assistant wide receivers coach for a club looking to go places in 2016.
Prediction: Signs with Minnesota Vikings
Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference and ESPN.com. All player ratings courtesy of Pro Football Focus. All 2016 contract terms and transactions are courtesy of Spotrac.