NFL Free Agents 2017: Projecting Homes for Best Players on Market, Post-Draft
With the 2017 NFL draft in the rearview mirror, the offseason is about to enter its second phase.
Now that clubs have picked up rookies to fill roster holes, they can go about fleshing out the remainder through free agency.
One might think that after almost two months of free agency, the bones would have been picked clean. Far from it. In fact, there's more than a little meat left.
There's a quarterback who came one throw from victory in the Super Bowl, a running back who led the NFL in rushing scores in 2016 and veteran wideout and center with 10 Pro Bowls between them.
And that's just on offense.
Here's a look at where those players (and several others) just might wind up.
Projected Landing Spot: Seattle Seahawks
It seems like a million years ago that Colin Kaepernick was leading the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII. The Niners came just a few feet from winning that game.
At the time, Kaepernick appeared to be on the verge of becoming one of the NFL's best at the position. Since then, it's been a rapid fall from grace.
Not only was Kaepernick let go by the Niners this year, but there's been little interest in the 29-year-old's services since.
Struggles notwithstanding, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett told the NFL Network's NFL Total Access (via Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com) said it still strikes him as odd that no one has come calling for Kaepernick:
"Yeah, it does surprise me," Bennett said. "Kap is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He's also one of the most genuine people you could possibly meet. All the stuff that he's doing off the field, the things that he's doing in the communities, he's just serving everybody. Teams should be happy to have a leader like that, a guy who's dedicated to the people around him and he's dedicated to making their life better. The only thing he could do is make the offense even better."
There's the matter of Kaepernick's political activism, which has rubbed more than a few people the wrong way. But that's what makes the Seattle Seahawks so perfect.
Never mind that Seattle is one of the most progressive cities in America. The 12th Man is one of the most loyal fan bases in the NFL. If general manager John Schneider says a player is good enough for the Seahawks, the fans buy it.
The Seahawks have a need at backup quarterback behind Russell Wilson, and Kaepernick is uniquely qualified to run the zone-read offense the Seahawks employ.
Would it be weird to see Kaepernick in the helmet of the team that was his most hated rival? You bet. But frankly, it just makes too much sense not to happen.
Projected Landing Spot: Detroit Lions
The market for veteran running back help, which started off colder and slower than frozen molasses, has finally thawed a bit.
Still, there's at least one old-timer still perusing the want ads. Despite setting career highs with 1,161 rushing yards and an NFL-leading 18 touchdowns on the ground for the Super Bowl champions in 2016, LeGarrette Blount wasn't brought back by the New England Patriots.
Blount may not be long for the unemployment line. According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, the list of potential suitors for Blount has been narrowed to two teams—the Detroit Lions and New York Giants.
Robinson believes Motown the most obvious fit for the 30-year-old bruiser:
"The Lions may be the most obvious fit, with a stable of running backs who don’t bring the same physical mentality to first or second down. Detroit also has general manager Bob Quinn who was in the New England personnel ranks during Blount’s tenure with the Patriots. It means something to have Quinn calling the shots, especially after he watched Bill Belichick add Blount to the roster twice."
Had you told me the same thing a few days before the draft, I would have nodded and projected Blount to land with the Giants, who have been rumored to have interest in Blount for some time.
But the acquisition of Clemson's Wayne Gallman in the fourth round may well have cooled Big Blue's interest enough for the Lions to emerge as the front-runner to land him.
Projected Landing Spot: Baltimore Ravens
Who says you can't go home again?
The Baltimore Ravens lost veteran wide receiver Steve Smith to retirement and slot man Kamar Aiken to free agency.
That leaves them in quite the pass-catching pickle. There isn't a whole lot left on the free agent-wire where receiving is concerned.
But there's one player there the Ravens are familiar with.
"I'm thinking about it every day," Harbaugh said. "Just like I'm thinking about [several other open spots on the roster]. But that's up to Ozzie. It's up to all of us, but in the final accounting, I think we need to see what all the options are. And I don't even know if Anquan wants to come back. That would be another thing that we have to look into."
Boldin is reportedly in no big hurry to pick a new team and may want to return to Detroit, where he was second on the team in catches and first in touchdowns in 2016.
The Ravens also aren't exactly swimming in cap space. Only three teams have less, per Spotrac.
Ozzie Newsome would be well-served to create the wiggle room to sign Boldin though.
It really says it all that if Boldin signed tomorrow, he'd be the best wideout on Baltimore's roster.
And he's 36.
Projected Landing Spot: New England Patriots
It isn't going to take much longer for Gary Barnidge to find work. At 31, He isn't getting any younger, but Barnidge is just two years removed from piling up almost 80 catches for over 1,000 yards and nine scores for the Browns.
It amazes me that Cleveland released him, unless he asked for it. It's not like Barnidge had an exorbitant salary or the Browns lack cap space.
But Barnidge can now choose his next team and there will be no shortage of suitors.
The New England Patriots have long been fond of hoarding tight ends. Sure, the team has Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, but both have lengthy injury histories.
The addition of Barnidge would be a gift as insurance against one of those players getting hurt. They also have more than enough wiggle room under the cap to make a short-term deal with Barnidge.
In an offseason when everything has seemingly gone right for the Pats, adding a reliable veteran target for Tom Brady would be the icing on the cake.
It would also be exceptionally annoying. So you know the Patriots will pull it off.
Projected Landing Spot: Cincinnati Bengals
Sometimes I just don't get it.
Sure, veteran center Nick Mangold is 33. The seven-time Pro Bowler isn't the player he once was and missed half the 2016 season.
But as Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus tweeted, Mangold also hasn't surrendered a sack in 33 games, which makes it a little hard to understand why he hasn't found a new team.
It's possible, as Josh Alper reported for Pro Football Talk back in March, that Mangold is still balking at the prospect of kicking to guard.
Whether it's at center or at guard though, the Cincinnati Bengals could use Mangold's help.
The Bengals just missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, in large part because their offensive line took a big step back. And that was before losing their two best linemen (left tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler) in free agency.
They can talk up youngsters Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi and free-agent acquisition Andre Smith until the cows come home, but the offensive front is still a massive question mark.
Since Mangold went to Ohio State, the move would be wildly popular with fans.
Projected Landing Spot: Arizona Cardinals
Nose tackle Dan Williams was let go by the Oakland Raiders in April, halfway through a four-year, $25 million contract.
The 29-year-old played well for the Raiders in his first year in Oakland, tallying a career-best 48 stops in 15 starts. But as ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez pointed out, Williams showed up to training camp last year out of shape and his numbers fell.
The best thing for the 6'2", 330-pounder might be a return to the team that helped him earn that fat paycheck to begin with.
Granted, there's the matter of the conditioning issues that led to Williams release in Oakland. It isn't a new problem for Williams, who has struggled to keep his weight down for most of his seven NFL seasons.
There's also the matter of 2016 starter Corey Peters, who wasn't a worldbeater in 14 starts for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016, but he wasn't terrible either.
However, defensive-line help is at the top of the Cardinals' needs.
An incentive-laden deal would take care of the weight issues. And perhaps a return to the team where Williams had his most success will inspire him, especially given how his tenure in the Bay Area ended.
Peters is undersized at nose tacklet. And with the loss of Calais Campbell, the Cards also need bodies at end, where Peters could rotate with Williams on board.
It's not a perfect solution for Arizona's problems up front, but at this point, it may be the best one left.
Projected Landing Spot: Dallas Cowboys
After tallying seven sacks for the Detroit Lions in 2015, Devin Taylor appeared to be heading toward a big payday.
However, he was the second-worst qualifying 4-3 end in the NFL in 2016, per Pro Football Focus, and the free-agent market for the 27-year-old has been whisper-quiet.
As Brad Gagnon wrote here at Bleacher Report before the draft, at least part of that slow-developing market for Taylor was due to a deep draft class at his position.
Well, the draft has come and gone, and there are still NFL teams who need help at defensive end. Teams like the Dallas Cowboys. But they did add a defensive end in the draft with the selection of Michigan's Taco Charlton, and they filled their secondary holes with four defensive backs.
But amid conflicting reports that troubled young end Randy Gregory may have failed yet another drug test, the Cowboys need to get significantly better.
Taylor may never be more than a rotational strong-side end, and the Cowboys (as usual) don't have a lot of cap space to work with.
But Jerry Jones is the king of creative cap management, Taylor's just now entering the prime of his career and at this point, the fifth-year pro might be open to playing under a short-term deal—especially if it means the opportunity to work with DL-whisperer Rod Marinelli.
Projected Landing Spot: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers added some outside linebacker help in the 2017 NFL draft with Wisconsin's Vince Biegel, and Green Bay appears set starters-wise with veterans Clay Matthews and Nick Perry.
However, edge-rusher is a position where teams can never have too much depth, and the loss of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones leaves the Packers on the lookout for rotational pass-rushers.
That's good, because heading into his 12th NFL season and coming off an injury-marred 2016, a rotational player is about all Elvis Dumervil is anymore.
Zach Kruse of Packers Wire mentioned Dumervil before the draft as a player who could make sense as the rarest of rarities for Ted Thompson: a real-life free agent add.
"Age and injuries are catching up to Dumervil," Kruse wrote, "who has just nine sacks over his last 24 games. That said, he’s only a few years removed from a 17-sack season, and he could make sense in Green Bay as a situational rusher with a long history of producing in the 3-4 defense."
Thompson doesn't like to spend a lot of money to sign free agents, but that's good in this case. At this late juncture in Dumervil's career, he'll come cheap. Thompson can offer the 33-year-old an opportunity to chase his 100th career sack and a Super Bowl ring at the same time.
Dumervil offers the Pack a veteran presence who can back up both outside linebacker spots and even rush the passer from defensive end in the nickel.
Projected Landing Spot: Kansas City Chiefs
It is surprising to see inside linebacker Gerald Hodges still looking for work. The 26-year-old is coming off the best season of his career, with 80 tackles and three sacks in 12 starts for the San Francisco 49ers.
Hodges was also a top-10 inside linebacker in 2016 per the rankers at Pro Football Focus.
So what's the problem? I'll confess I don't know, but I don't think it's unreasonable to presume that it could be a word that starts with an M and rhymes with honey.
The pot just hasn't been full enough to get Hodges to sign on the dotted line, but at this point, the four-year veteran isn't hitting triple sevens on this contract.
It's no secret the Chiefs could stand to add an inside linebacker. Derrick Johnson is well past 30 and rehabbing a torn Achilles. Youngsters Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander have each shown some measure of promise, but neither is going to be confused with NaVorro Bowman.
The Chiefs did add an inside 'backer in the draft in Ukeme Eligwe, but a fifth-round pick from Georgia Southern isn't apt to patch the team's hole at the position.
The Chiefs are a team with postseason aspirations that had all sorts of problems stopping the run in 2016.
Revisiting a deal with Hodges would be wise, and if he isn't going to get paid, Hodges might as well ink a short-term deal with a chance to do something that was in short supply in San Francisco of late: win.
Projected Landing Spot: Cleveland Browns
How could I forget a team still sitting on over $50 million in cap space, per Spotrac, even after accounting for this year's rookie pool.
I might not be able to forget about all that cheddar, but the Cleveland cornerbacks are another story altogether. Outside of Joe Haden (who hasn't been himself in some time) they are imminently forgettable.
Right now, the Browns are a motley crew of "who?" except for Haden, and given all the money the team has left in the war chest, there's little reason not to consider adding some veteran help in the secondary.
When the Browns embarked on their first free-agent spending spree of 2017, Jason McCourty wasn't on the menu. The 29-year-old, who played his first eight seasons in Tennessee, wasn't released by the Titans until mid-April.
McCourty had 67 tackles and two interceptions a year ago, but isn't a great cover corner. He ranked 69th in that regard last year, per PFF.
But McCourty offers the Browns a couple of things that are in short supply in the defensive backfield in Cleveland.
The first is toughness. McCourty has never been shy about getting dirty in run support, piling up over 60 tackles five times and amassing an eye-popping 105 stops back in 2011.
The second is experience. The Browns could use a corner opposite Haden, who has been around the block once or twice, and McCourty has made 90 starts in his career.
It's been a nice offseason from the Browns, who have done an excellent job filling holes in both free agency and the draft.
McCourty would fill another one, and they have more than enough cap space to make it happen.