2017 NFL Free Agents: The Most Overlooked Players on the Market
Kevin Carter was just a name—solid depth but not anyone my Buccaneers teammates were doing cartwheels over when he arrived from Tennessee.
Then training camp happened. Within weeks, the 33-year-old once slated as just a veteran depth move showed he could play at a much, much higher level. He went on to start almost every game for us.
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The special sauce of great team building involves combing through the NFL's discard pile and finding bargains. Then, you need a coaching staff to coax one more where-the-hell-did-that-come-from year out of them.
Look at the past two Super Bowl participants, and you'll see rosters speckled with Kevin Carter-types. So comb through this slideshow carefully, general managers. The 10 discount veterans I've offered up might be the catalyst your team needs to mount its own championship run.
He lined up alongside J.J. Watt one season.
He lined up with Jadeveon Clowney the next.
John Simon won't command the money of his name-brand peers in Houston. But the team that lands him will find a player who'll give a superstar's level of effort on every damn down.
Simon's a guy who's picked the brain of his 2016 position coach, Mike Vrabel. Like the former Patriots standout, he flies all over the field from his linebacker spot. He brings a little pass-rushing pop, and he knows how to pull off a stunt too.
All that for the low price of a contributing player? Sign me up.
Denver's phone rang off the hook when the NFL's trade deadline came near.
Teams wanted to know about Kayvon Webster's availability—and with good reason. The Broncos' fourth cornerback would start on just about any other defense in the league. He was simply logjammed behind some all-time cover men out at Mile High.
He learned what he could (tackling, playing bigger than your size, change of direction) from Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Now, with those acquired skills, he can seek more snaps elsewhere. And he has the ideal bang-for-buck upside all cornerback-needy teams dream of.
Ever hear of Karl Klug?
It's about time you learn the name, especially if your team is in need of a little additional pass-rushing oomph (and what team isn't?).
Klug was to the Titans what a great sixth man is to a championship basketball team. He's not quite good enough to be a starter, but you almost don't want him to be; Klug excels in his 10-20 snap-per-game role off the bench hunting quarterbacks.
Those skills won't command top dollar out on the market. But pay him, and you're buying a motor that just won't quit.
Interested teams have a lot of Jack Crawford tape to pore over before free agency begins.
They'll immediately notice two things. First off, Crawford's a player who received a lot (and I mean a lot) of snaps down in Jerry's World. And secondly, he played almost everywhere on Rod Marinelli's front four.
Both skills should make him a priority buy-low candidate. Crawford can be had for a fraction of what a Jason Pierre-Paul or Calais Campbell will command but can play in both their respective positions—and some one-gapping tackle too.
He's not simply the best cover cornerback from last season's Eagles squad.
He's the only cover cornerback from last year's Eagles squad. Nolan Carroll was left out on an island all too often; his market value will take a hit from all the big passes allowed in Philly in 2016.
Some general manager will look like a genius by swooping in on him, though. Carroll shouldn't be a top corner option on any defense, but he'd shine against a team's second receiver or in a reserve role.
One added bonus: As his speed dwindles, Carroll has the body type and vision to move to safety and give his next team added years of contribution.
Jarvis Jones isn't the twitchy edge-rusher who'll put up double-digit sacks.
But why can't he become the next Rob Ninkovich? I'd take him on my defense in a rotational role like the Patriots pass rusher, especially if his laundry list of health problems doesn't get longer. When healthy, he's the ideal reserve outside linebacker.
So check the expectations that once made him a ballyhooed prospect out of Georgia. Fit Jones in a rotation and watch him work, especially in the running game, where he's so physical.
Micah Hyde won't become a Pro Bowler in his next locker room.
He'll do everything else imaginable, though. Green Bay's Swiss army knife played five different roles during his team's late-season surge. It all culminated with a standout NFC Divisional Round win over the Dallas Cowboys, in which Hyde starred as a zone-blitzer.
What else can Hyde do? Well, he can play all four facets of special teams, including return kicks and punts. He plays a decent slot cornerback. If need be, he'll play safety too. Some team will offer him a deal and get so many players in one.
Dallas' line got political the moment it scooped up La'el Collins.
Caught in the crosshairs was Ronald Leary, a blocker every bit as effective as the highly touted LSU product who fell out of the 2015 NFL draft. Collins had a first-round pedigree; coaches want guys like that in their starting lineups.
Then he was hurt three games into 2016. And we were reminded just how impactful and technically sound Leary can be; the Cowboys guard had an amazing ability to both anchor in pass rush and get to the second level in the running game.
The team that scoops Leary up should thank Jerry Jones. Dallas treated him like a reserve—he'll get paid like a reserve—but he's truly a top-of-market starting guard.
Pop on Menelik Watson's tape, and you'll see a physical freak with left tackle tools.
You just won't see it nearly enough. Watson's injury history is too long for the Florida State product to command big free-agent bucks. Plus, he's actually still learning the position after a late start in the sport.
General managers will use both to drive his price tag down. But best believe Watson will contribute on some line in 2017; he looked the part on one of the best blocking units in football. The only hurdle is his health.
I'll always advocate for the signing of a Sims, correct spelling or not.
Especially if the player in question is effectively a sixth down lineman playing tight end. And that's doubly true if that lineman-sized man has hands that improve by the season.
Dion Sims should be a bargain, folks. Every team needs a good blocking tight end to complement all the receiving guys flooding the position. Sims is the perfect garnish to a Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or, yes—a Julius Thomas. Miami would be foolish to let him go.