Finding Ideal Homes for the Best Free Agents Left on the Market
Post-draft signings can always be taken with a grain of salt, but there are eight NFL veterans who can still help teams moving forward. They are on the open market for a multitude of reasons, be they off-field or bad press issues, a late release or a failed physical.
Only seven teams have more than $20 million in cap space left, a dwarfed number compared to the $1 billion-plus in cap space available for free agents in March. Don't expect any mega-deals to be signed in June; these players will likely sign one-year contracts and try free agency again in 2019.
We'll go through these eight veterans and pair them up with teams who could best use their talents. Until preseason football kicks off in August, the landing spots for these players are going to be the most exciting parts of NFL football this summer.
Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback: Los Angeles Chargers
Since he was drafted in 2011, Colin Kaepernick's adjusted yards per attempt ranks 12th out of 43 quarterbacks who have registered at least 1,000 passes. Peyton Manning and Tony Romo, who retired from the NFL years ago, are also two of the signal-callers ahead of him on the list.
His career AY/A mark of 7.31 yards per attempt would have ranked Kaepernick 15th among eligible passers last season. It would be disingenuous to say that Kaepernick isn't the most valuable talent left in free agency, no matter what his relationship is with NFL owners.
On paper, one of his best potential landing spots is with the Los Angeles Chargers. Current starter Philip Rivers will turn 37 years old this season, and they have just Geno Smith, Cardale Jones and Nic Shimonek backing him up. Los Angeles head coach Anthony Lynn, a former running backs coach, helped the Tyrod Taylor-led Buffalo Bills to become one of the most efficient rushing teams in recent history during his time as offensive coordinator. They had a league-best 5.3 yards per carry in 2016.
Lynn's success with a mobile quarterback would make him a solid fit for Kaepernick, who is third among quarterbacks in rushing yards since 2011, despite missing last season completely.
Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver: Indianapolis Colts
Wide receiver is not a position that is kind to the aging player. Dez Bryant, at 29 years old, now appears to be a late-career rehabilitation project more than a surefire starting receiver. After three straight years below 1,000 receiving yards, you can understand why the Dallas Cowboys elected to stop paying him.
The 2017 version of Bryant, who was targeted 132 times but only averaged 6.3 yards on those throws, is not a good fit anywhere in the league. It will take a team desperate enough to bank on a career bounceback to take a shot on him.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported in April that Bryant turned down a three-year contract earlier this offseason to seek out a one-year "prove-it" deal that could lead to a 2019 free agency cash-in if he does return to his pre-2015 form.
The Indianapolis Colts could use a veteran wide receiver immediately. Their receiver room is currently made up of veterans T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers, along with late-round rookies Daurice Fountain and Deon Cain.
Bryant's disappointing 2017 season was an 838-yard year. Rogers and Grant have just 557 and 985 receiving yards in their NFL careers, respectively. Outside of Dallas, the Colts might have the worst number wide receiver situation in the league at the moment.
Richie Incognito, Guard: Minnesota Vikings
Despite the fact he made three Pro Bowls in the last three years, it's uncertain if Richie Incognito will ever play in the NFL again. Prior to his NFL career, Incognito had two college programs tell him he was no longer on the team due to behavioral issues, including fighting with teammates. He was then the focus of an NFL bullying investigation once he got into the league, and he was recently sent for involuntary psychiatric evaluation by police in Florida after allegedly throwing a dumbbell at a fellow gym user.
If he does play again, though, he could immediately help a team with a hole at guard on the offensive line. The Minnesota Vikings have question marks at both guard spots, while starting center Pat Elflein struggled last season as a rookie.
The team could look to kick in right tackle Mike Remmers, who was a major free-agent signing last year and took reps at guard during OTAs, per Andrew Krammer of The Star Tribune. But that also means second-round rookie Brian O'Neill would start immediately because there are few options left for the Vikings to improve on their offensive interior. That was their biggest weakness when the offseason began, and it has largely been ignored to this point.
Johnathan Hankins, Defensive Tackle: Miami Dolphins
Last offseason, Johnathan Hankins was a 24-year-old looking to cash in on his second contract. The nose tackle market deflated, though, leaving the likes of Dontari Poe on one-year deals, while others were forced to sign deals below their projected market value, including Hankins.
After just one year in Indianapolis, Hankins was released by the Colts this offseason, leaving him to look for his third team in three years. It's surprising that Hankins is on the open market at all. His 15 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2017 led Indianapolis' defensive linemen.
A team like the Miami Dolphins, who are going to come into money on June 1 once they no longer have to carry Ndamukong Suh's contract on their salary cap, could be in the market for him. Currently, the Dolphins' starting defensive tackles are Jordan Phillips and Davon Godchaux, who aren't superstars and play one of the deepest positions in the sport league-wide.
Mychal Kendricks, Linebacker: Oakland Raiders
The Philadelphia Eagles finally released linebacker Mychal Kendricks this offseason after he was long the subject of trade speculation. With Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks already on the roster and a tight cap situation for the next few seasons, the team saved $6 million against the cap, per NBC Sports Philadephia's Reuben Frank.
Still, Kendricks has started at least eight games in every season over the last six years, recording 459 tackles in the process. Since he entered the league in 2012, only Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham have recorded more tackles at the line for the Eagles than Kendricks.
One team that could use linebacker help right now is the Oakland Raiders, who will likely play a true 4-3 this year under former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Derrick Johnson simply shouldn't be playing 16 games for a team in 2018. Adding Kendricks would give the Raiders an immediate starter at linebacker next to Tahir Whitehead.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cornerback: Arizona Cardinals
A lot can change in a season. Entering last year, the New York Giants secondary was considered one of the best in the sport. After some regression and a lackluster season by their defensive line, the Giants won eight fewer games in 2017, in part because of their pass defense.
This led to the hiring of a new head coach (Pat Shurmur), a new general manager (Dave Gettleman) and a new defensive coordinator (James Bettcher). Lost in the shuffle of the staff shakeup was the release of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported he was moving to safety in March, but the Giants cut ties eight days later.
The Arizona Cardinals are struggling to put together a defensive back unit. Patrick Peterson is still a No. 1 cornerback, but the situation opposite of him isn't great. Tramon Williams returned to Green Bay this offseason, while hybrid slot-safety Tyrann Mathieu was released.
Relying on Budda Baker, a second-year player, to take a significant jump in reps is risky without a quality veteran cornerback opposite of Peterson. If the Cardinals think they can be competitive this season, Rodgers-Cromartie should be right up their alley.
Bashaud Breeland, Cornerback: Kansas City Chiefs
Timing is everything for free agents. In March, former Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland agreed to a three-year, $24 million contract with the Carolina Panthers to start across from James Bradberry, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
Unfortunately, an infection led to a failed physical and the revoking of the offer. To this day, Breeland, who two months ago was worth $24 million and a starting job, is still out of work. Earlier this month, Breeland visited with the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, according to ESPN's Rob Demovsky.
His best landing spot, though, is the Kansas City Chiefs. Another former Washington cornerback, Kendall Fuller, has already made his way to Kansas City this offseason in the trade for quarterback Alex Smith. After Marcus Peters was shipped to the Los Angeles Rams, Fuller is a clear-cut No. 1 cornerback with the Chiefs, a step up from his slot role in Washington.
But there's little to no depth in Kansas City at cornerback other than Fuller. For Fuller to receive reps in his favored slot position, Steven Nelson and David Amerson would likely have to play outside cornerback. Nelson has no interceptions in 36 games over three years, while Amerson was released by an Oakland Raiders team that has struggled in pass coverage for years.
When healthy, Breeland could be a No. 2 cornerback with the Chiefs. He could line up against No. 1 receivers in crucial situations to put Fuller in the slot, where he is better than just about anyone in the league. Everything will come back to Breeland's physical, though.
Eric Reid, Safety: Seattle Seahawks
On draft day, Florida State safety Derwin James felt the Seattle Seahawks would likely pick him with the No. 18 selection if the Chargers passed on him at No. 17. Earlier this week, Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor told WVEC-TV (h/t NFL.com) "If my body says I can play, I'm playing" regarding his potentially career-ending neck injury.
Signs point to Seattle potentially being in the strong safety market in the near future, be it this summer or next offseason. Former San Francisco 49ers strong safety Eric Reid ranked 10th at the position in Bleacher Report's NFL1000 grading system and would provide immediate depth at the position.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spent time in both Seattle and Jacksonville coaching up Cover 3-heavy defenses under Gus Bradley, who helped develop the Legion of Boom defense that has been the mark of Seattle football for the last half-decade. Reid would be a plug-and-play strong safety for the Seahawks if they sign him.