10 NFL Free Agents Who Can Make an Impact in 2017

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJune 14, 2017

10 NFL Free Agents Who Can Make an Impact in 2017

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    With OTAs underway and training camp just around the corner, most of the NFL players still looking for work are doing so for a reason: They just aren't very good.

    But sometimes players (Jeremy Maclin) get let go late in the game for salary-cap reasons.

    Maclin didn't languish long. As Conor Orr reported for NFL.com, the 29-year-old signed a two-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens on Monday.

    Other times, veteran players are victims of a ground-up rebuild. In New York, a number of players have received walking papers from the Jets.

    And for some players waiting to sign until training camp, this is all part of the plan. After a decade in the NFL, they're uninterested in OTAs, so they drag their feet a bit to skip them.

    Whatever the reason, there are still number of useful free agents available. They can be contributors and difference-makers.

    They can make a real impact.

Just Missed the Cut

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Ryan Clady, OT

    That a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All Pro left tackle is still sitting on the open market in June tells you just about everything you need to know about the state of Ryan Clady's career.

    Clady has now missed 23 of his last 32 games thanks to a torn rotator cuff last year and an ACL tear the year before. If he could get back a fraction of what he showed as a 16-game starter for the Denver Broncos in 2014, he'd be a gift this late in free agency.

    Leon Hall, CB

    At 32, Hall isn't getting any younger, and it's been a good long while since Hall was named a second-team All-Pro with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009.

    However, Hall is a versatile defensive back who can play on the boundary, in the slot and even at safety. And while he's past his prime, Hall wasn't bad in limited duty with the New York Giants in 2016.

    He's a fine depth addition, especially for a team with a young secondary.

    Sen'Derrick Marks, DT

    Back in 2014, Marks was an ascending interior lineman who had 8.5 sacks in 16 starts for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But that 2014 campaign ended with a torn ACL, and Marks hasn't been the same since.

    But he did manage 3.5 sacks in limited duty for the Jags in 2016, so it's possible that two-plus years removed from the injury, Marks is finally getting close too 100 percent.

    Dan Williams, DT

    When Dan Williams is on his game, the 30-year-old can be a highly effective one-technique space-eater. As recently as 2015, Williams amassed 48 tackles as a starter with the Raiders in the first year of a lucrative free-agent deal.

    But the weight issues that dogged Williams in Arizona followed him to the Bay Area, and as he got heavier in 2016, his level of play came down. If he slims down, Williams could be a nice add as depth for a 3-4 club like the Cardinals.

    Sweat those pounds off!

Eric Decker

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    With Jeremy Maclin signed, Eric Decker is likely next. He was cut in the New York Jets' roster purge.

    The Purge: Big Apple Bloodbath...coming direct to video this summer.

    Per Albert Breer of the MMQBthe Jets and Ravens discussed a trade before the release. John Breech of CBS Sports reported Baltimore still maintains its interest, even with Maclin aboard, and despite Decker's lowest production totals since his rookie season.

    Decker had both hip and shoulder surgery in the offseason, but he was cleared to participate fully in OTAs. 

    “My health is good. I’m back and I’m doing everything right now,” he told Newsday's Bob Glauber. “There are no [structural] issues. I’m just getting my strength back. But as far as everything else, I’m a full go.”

    Decker's 2016 was a mess, but from 2012-2015, he was one of the most productive wideouts in the NFL.

    Over that four-year stretch, he averaged 82 catches for 1,085 yards. In three of those four seasons, Decker had 10-plus touchdowns. And he did it with quarterbacks both great (Peyton Manning) and mediocre (Ryan Fitzpatrick).

    A healthy Decker, like Maclin, won't be out of work long. Those two together in Charm City would shake up the AFC North.

David Harris

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    I get that the NFL can be a harsh mistress. A cold business. Insert cliche here.

    But it was still rough to see inside linebacker David Harris get unceremoniously dumped by the Jets after 10 seasons with the team.

    In 2017, seniority with Gang Green is the kiss of death, so as Rich Cimini of ESPN.com wrote, Harris was part of the veteran purge.

    From his first season in the NFL, Harris was one of the anchors of the Jets defense. As a rookie, Harris piled up 127 total tackles and five sacks. It was the first of six seasons of triple-digit tackles, and the first of four with five or more sacks.

    Harris annually led the team in tackles, including in 2016 with 94 stops.

    He was never the fleetest of foot. He's a throwback linebacker—a thumper who is much more comfortable stuffing the run than covering backs and tight ends. And in today's pass-happy NFL, coverage deficiencies become exposed much more readily.

    However, there are plenty of NFL teams who could use a skilled and experienced two-down linebacker to help shore up the middle.

    So while Harris' Jets career ended, his NFL days are far from over.

Nick Mangold

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    I'll freely admit that this one surprises me.

    That Mangold was cut by—wait for itthe Jets isn't surprising. He sat out half of last season with injuries, and he's too old for a rebuilding New York.

    That's just how The Hunger Games: Gang Green works.

    No, the surprise is that several months after being released, Mangold still hasn't found a new team.

    Yes, Mangold is 33, has an injury history and he might not be the same player who made seven Pro Bowls and two All-Pro first teams.

    But he is still an effective blocker. As Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus tweeted, Mangold hasn't surrendered a sack in 33 games.

    Per ESPN.com's Dan Graziano, he has reportedly balked at kicking to guard thus far, that may be what it takes to keep playing.

    Assuming he's healthy (and he seems to be) there are easily a dozen teams in the NFL who would benefit from adding Mangold—even if he's 60 percent the player he was.

Darrelle Revis

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    OK, last Jet. I promise.

    There's been plenty of ink dedicated to cornerback Darrelle Revis over a 10-year career that's included seven Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pro nods.

    Over the past year, the conversation changed. Revis had (by his standards) a historically awful season in 2016. He was victimized repeatedly in coverage. Quarterbacks once avoided Revis Island like the plague, but now they vacation there en masse.

    Given those struggles, it was no shock when the Jets kicked off The Releasing 2: Releaser's Revenge (directed by Mike Maccagnan) by ridding themselves of Revis' big contract.

    It's entirely possible that Revis, who has made a lot of money, has priced himself out of the market. And it's not completely outside the realm of reason that the edge of the cliff came. It happens.

    I'm inclined to believe that Revis just had a terrible year. Things snowballed to an extent that Revis, for possibly the first time ever, struggled not just physically but seemingly mentally as well.

    If that's the case, there's no reason to think Revis could rebound. He might not ever be the league's most feared cover man again, but that doesn't mean he can't still help a defense.

    The alternative would be a rotten way to end a great NFL career.

Anquan Boldin

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Yes, there are free agents who were not recently released by the New York Jets.

    It's a bit surprising that Anquan Boldin is available at all. Sure, at 36, Boldin is old. He'll be 37 in October, which is positively ancient for a receiver.

    However, Boldin didn't play like an old man with the Detroit Lions. The 14th-year veteran reeled in 67 catches in 2016, good for second on the team. His 584 receiving yards ranked fourth.

    Boldin may not have the wheels of his heyday with the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens, but he is one of the toughest, most physical pass-catchers in the NFL. When it came to battles for the football, Boldin won a lot more than he lost in 2016.

    As ESPN.com reported back in March, Boldin plans to play in 2017. A return to Detroit. Baltimore and a gig as Jeremy Maclin's replacement in Kansas City are all possible.

    However, there's been little more than rumors regarding Boldin of late, perhaps because he is waiting for camp to get underway before picking his next team.

    Things will heat up for Boldin soon. There are too many teams hurting for receiver help, and he was too good last season to wither on the vine.

Dwight Freeney

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Dwight Freeney has been around the NFL block a few times. Fifteen times, if you want to get picky.

    Freeney's no longer the every-down force he was while making seven Pro Bowls with the Indianapolis Colts. He had just 10 tackles and three sacks in limited snaps a year ago with the Atlanta Falcons.

    But as recently as 2015, Freeney piled up eight sacks as a situational pass-rusher with the Arizona Cardinals, and he showed in Super Bowl LI he can still occasionally flash the speed off the edge that made him one of the NFL's most feared sack artists for over a decade.

    Freeney's free agency comes with something of an asterisk. It appears there's already something of a wink-wink deal that will land the 37-year-old back in Atlanta.

    As Alex Marvez reported for Sporting News, Freeney and the Falcons have been talking, and many believe it's just a matter of time until player and team are reunited.

    There's no point in subjecting a 37-year-old to additional risk of injury, especially when that player skipped OTAs each of the last two years.

    The Falcons have a phenomenal pair of young edge-rushers in 2016 sack king Vic Beasley and rookie Takkarist McKinley.

    Bringing Freeney back to spell and mentor those youngsters is a great idea.

Gary Barnidge

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    In 2015, Gary Barnidge caught 79 passes for the Cleveland Browns for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns.

    Not even two years later, Barnidge is out of a job, released by the Browns after they selected Miami's David Njoku in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

    Barnidge's numbers dipped substantially last season, but as he told Don Banks of the New England Patriots website, that might have had to do with a less-than-ideal quarterback situation in Cleveland.

    "I do think I'm one of the only tight ends to play with eight different quarterbacks in two years and still be able to put up good numbers," he said.

    Barnidge's huge 2015 may have been an outlier. Before that season, he'd never had 250 receiving yards in any of his six NFL seasons.

    But it also isn't all that often that a productive tight end with Barnidge's resume is summarily dumped into free agency at the end of April.

    For NFL teams with a hole at the position, Christmas came early—teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who struck out bigly on the Ladarius Green signing, or the Baltimore Ravens, who released Dennis Pitta after he suffered yet another dislocated hip.

    And that's just in the AFC North.

Perry Riley

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Every player so far here has been named to at least one Pro Bowl. Most signed lucrative contracts at some point. Many were household names, at least in their teams' cities.

    Perry Riley is none of that. The 29-year-old has spent seven NFL seasons toiling in relative obscurity, and after amassing 48 tackles in 11 games for the Raiders in 2016, Oakland made no effort to bring Riley back.

    But just because Riley isn't a star doesn't mean he can't be a solid addition somewhere.

    Riley has plenty of experience, with 74 career starts. Riley has topped 100 tackles twice in a season, including a career-high 125 stops for Washington back in 2012.

    While the numbers don't really show it, Riley was easily the best inside linebacker the Raiders had a year ago, a steadying force for an Oakland team that made the playoffs for the first time in well over a decade.

    Riley isn't Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers or Kwon Alexander of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But he's also far too good to still be looking for work.

Brandon Flowers

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Just like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Flowers is an accomplished NFL cornerback with a trip to Honolulu on his professional resume.

    And just like Revis, Flowers was released by his team after a lousy 2016 season. The Los Angeles Chargers told Flowers he might as well just stay in San Diego.

    Unlike Revis, there's no mystery as to why Flowers struggled in 2016. The problem was the same one that's dogged Flowers throughout his NFL career: He can't stay on the field.

    A pair of concussions cost Flowers 10 games last year, and given the NFL's new emphasis of head injuries, it's possible they've chilled his market value.

    That market is cold. Like the inside of Frosty the Snowman's refrigerator cold. There were a few whispers early in free agency regarding the 31-year-old, but over the last couple of months, nothing. No crickets. No buzz. Nada.

    So his waiting game may yet go on longer. But as Week 1 draws closer, clubs like the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans (who have both ample cap space and a need in the secondary), will likely come calling.

DeAndre Levy

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    Back in 2014, DeAndre Levy was one of the best linebackers in the National Football League. He was a second-team All-Pro after piling up an eye-popping 155 total tackles—including a league-leading 121 solos.

    Then the bottom fell out.

    After signing a four-year extension with the Detroit Lions, Levy suffered a hip injury that wiped out his 2015 season. Last year, a nagging knee injury wiped out 11 games and left Levy a shell of his 2015 self.

    However, Levy told ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein he's finally back on track.

    "I'm very pleased about how things went with the surgery," he said. "I'm glad to finally start the process to heal."

    With Levy now the wrong side of 30, fresh off another surgery and having missed a staggering 26 games over the past two seasons, it's not exactly a stunner that his phone isn't ringing off the hook.

    But it wasn't long ago that Levy was one of the best weak-side linebackers in the entire NFL. The year before that 155-stop explosion, Levy racked up 117 tackles and led all NFL linebackers with six interceptions.

    If Levy's rehab progresses well and he can show he has the wheels that made him so good in coverage, the activity on that phone will pick up considerably.


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