The Top NFL Veteran Free Agents Still on the Market
With the 2016 NFL offseason entering the dead period before offseason workouts and training camp, franchises have one last chance to upgrade their rosters. There are quality veteran free-agent options still available. As of May 12, teams are able to sign any free agent without affecting the 2017 compensatory pick equation.
The risk for signing veterans who are coming off injury is at an all-time low since the majority of spending is done. Teams will likely offer short-term contracts for minimal money. Nevertheless, the potential impact of these eight veterans is well worth the cost.
Which veterans do you want to see land on your team? The next eight slides will break down the best players on the market and which teams should explore signing them. Leave your predictions for their landing spots in the comments section below.
Brandon Boykin, CB
The Carolina Panthers seemed to snag a free-agent bargain in slot cornerback Brandon Boykin earlier this offseason. The 5’9”, 183-pound slot specialist has been one of the best playmakers in the league at his position, he but hasn’t found a steady home in his career. The Panthers decided to cut Boykin after drafting three cornerbacks in the 2016 NFL draft.
Now he's looking for his fourth team in the last 12 months, and his inability to stay on a roster is head-scratching. He’s a talented player who for whatever reason sticks on receivers better than teams. Many defenses have worse starting nickel cornerbacks than Boykin, including each of the last three teams to cut bait with him.
According to Jared Dubin of CBS Sports, only 11 cornerbacks from 2012 to 2014 registered half of their total snaps in the slot, and Boykin had the second-lowest quarterback rating allowed. Although it’s easy to brush aside slot corners as less valuable than outside corners, it’s a niche role that requires a special mindset and skill set. Boykin is not only effective in smothering receivers but also forces turnovers.
Players who force impact plays are rarely available this time of year. His eight career interceptions are even more impressive when you consider his lack of playing time in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some general manager will look great after signing the 25-year-old.
Best fits: Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins
Arian Foster, RB
Coming off a brutal torn Achilles injury, 29-year-old Arian Foster is on the tail end of what has been a terrific career for an undrafted free agent. In the four seasons he’s started at least 13 games, he’s tallied at least 1,224 yards and eight touchdowns. But major injuries have limited him in two of the past three seasons, and he’s no longer a viable workhorse.
Foster doesn’t plan on signing until he’s fully recovered, and according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, that time frame puts him around August. When he’s ready to put pen to paper and find a new home, he’s a high-upside option for a team in need of a backup or rotational running back. He won't be expected to be a 20-carry back but rather one who can make the most out of 10 or 15 total touches per week.
Since his game was never predicated on raw athleticism or explosiveness, Foster may age well despite the injuries throughout his career. The big negative on his record is that he tends to be cautionary when a nagging injury exists, and he’s not as much of a gamer as some of his peers. Reducing his workload could alleviate that issue.
Teams that are looking to pick up a big-name player who can help with depth and consistency should be drawn to Foster. A cheap one-year deal for playoff hopefuls would make the most sense.
Best fits: Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions
William Beatty, LT
The offensive line is one of the most delicate positional groups in football. Not only does the NFL lack the depth to boast 64 quality starting tackles, but shaky players start even on playoff-contending teams. Once a team finds an impact tackle, he usually costs significant sums of money or assets to acquire.
By far the best free-agent offensive tackle still available is William Beatty. The former New York Giants left tackle suffered a torn pectoral muscle in March 2015 and then a torn rotator cuff during rehab. He missed all of 2015, which marked the first time since 2011 he missed multiple games in one season.
The 31-year-old is waiting until he’s fully recovered from surgery to try out for a team, according to Tom Rock of Newsday. That move is risky since some potential suitors have since moved on more reliable options than Beatty. Still, a handful of teams could upgrade their starting left tackle if Beatty comes back at 100 percent.
The relationship between Beatty and the Giants is likely rocky after the team released him to save money. But that’s his best landing spot in terms of familiarity and fit. Inserting him into their line would allow second-year tackle Ereck Flowers to flip back to his more natural right tackle position.
Best fits: New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks
Chris Culliver, CB
One year ago, cornerback Chris Culliver benefited from a stellar 2014 season by signing with the Washington Redskins. His four-year, $32 million contract should have kept him in the nation’s capital for at least two seasons thanks to his $8 million in guaranteed money in 2016, but a one-game suspension from a 2014 off-field incident negated that. The Redskins didn’t hesitate in releasing Culliver as soon as the ink on Josh Norman’s huge contract dried.
Also working against Culliver is the torn ACL and MCL he suffered in November. The 27-year-old is still in his prime, but he’ll likely miss a handful of games considering the suspension and timing of his injury. But he’s a low-risk signing who could turn into an above-average starting cornerback.
Culliver has good size at 6’0”, 199 pounds and plays physically. His best system match is a zone defense that gives him safety help over the top. That’ll especially be the case if he returns anything less than his full previous form.
There’s a dire need for good cornerbacks across the league. Culliver has six interceptions in his last 36 games played and has shown the talent to be a reliable No. 2 cornerback in the right situation. He should be on a roster by the preseason if his knee passes medical checks.
Best fits: Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers
Tony McDaniel, DT
The best remaining interior defensive lineman on the open market is tackle Tony McDaniel. He doesn’t fill an exciting role or pad his stats as a pass-rusher, but he does the dirty work that makes it all possible. He’s had successful stints with the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks prior to his one year in Tampa Bay last season.
At 6’7” and 305 pounds, McDaniel eats blocks and demands double-teams as a 1-technique in a 4-3 front or as an end in a 3-4 alignment. To illustrate his role, we can look at his career statistics. In 125 games played, he’s totaled just 141 tackles and 11.5 sacks. His impact spreads to his teammates when the edge-rushers and penetrating tackles get one-on-one opportunities.
The 31-year-old finished the 2014 season ranked as the 15th-best defensive tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus via Rotoworld. His stellar run-blocking presence deters offenses from his direction. Two of his former teams have suffered since losing him, so a reunion would make sense if a new suitor doesn’t come calling.
Best fits: Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills
Anquan Boldin, WR
It’s not often a player in his mid-30s can still produce even in limited snaps or as a rotational piece. Freak genetics and a rare skill set have allowed wide receiver Anquan Boldin to continue playing despite turning 36 years old this October. According to CBS Sports' Jamey Eisenberg, Boldin will take his time to pick the right situation.
Even in a neutered offense that finished dead last in points per game in 2015, Boldin still averaged 56.4 yards per game and converted 69 receptions. Insert him into a more functional vertical attack with a quality quarterback and he’ll continue to move the chains. The wily veteran has an ageless game that fits into the power slot role.
Interested teams will need to fit specific criteria for him to succeed. He’s not needed on young teams that are looking to grow over the next few years. Playoff hopefuls and Super Bowl contenders are the only ones that will appeal to Boldin.
Look for a high-caliber quarterback situation or a stacked set of receivers that will create space for Boldin underneath. He’s still winning with his physicality, strong hands and excellent timing on routes.
Best fits: Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons
Louis Vasquez, OG
Any team that is looking for a quality starting guard with experience on both sides of the center should consider Louis Vasquez. The former Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers guard hit free agency after being released in the final year of his four-year contract. He’s somehow still on the market despite being 29 years old.
Vasquez hasn’t missed a single game since 2011, so durability isn’t an issue. The 6’5”, 335-pounder moves well for his frame and fits into a zone-blocking running scheme. He excelled with Denver’s scheme at both left and right guard for the previous three seasons.
A return to Denver would make sense, but other contenders should also be interested. Vasquez is talented enough to start in a handful of situations but would be a tremendous backup if he can accept that role. Contenders that can snag him on a one- or two-year deal shouldn’t hesitate to add him to a positional battle or rotation.
Best fits: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints
Donte Whitner, SS
Donte Whitner is a punishing tackler who can fill the hybrid safety and linebacker role that is popular across the league. He’s a see-and-chase defender who relies on angles and straight-line speed, which has changed since his prime years with the Buffalo Bills. He’s still prone to missing tackles and taking poor angles, but he’s a lock to tally 58 or more solo tackles in a season, which he’s accomplished in five of the previous six seasons.
Teams with strong cornerback play and young, unproven safeties should be interested in Whitner. The 10-year veteran was asking for too much money prior to the 2016 NFL draft, according to Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. His price point should drop as training camp approaches.
Best fits: Los Angeles Rams, Houston Texans
All stats used are from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.