Best Free-Agent Option Remaining for Every NFL Team
Midseason free agents can make massive impacts on the biggest stage.
In 1996, the Green Bay Packers picked up free-agent wide receiver Andre Rison, who had just been released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rison had a relatively quiet regular season and NFC postseason for the Pack, but he gave Green Bay a huge momentum boost in Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots after he hauled in a 54-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brett Favre to open the scoring.
Green Bay eventually took home the Lombardi Trophy 35-21.
Fifteen years later, ex-New York Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn was about to take an eighth-grade teaching job in late November when his old team called him and offered him a roster spot. Two-plus months after that call, Blackburn turned in one of the biggest defensive plays of Super Bowl XLVI when he outjumped Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and snared a Tom Brady pass for an interception.
That pick helped the Giants win 21-17.
It's possible something similiar could happen this year. Therefore, we shouldn't sleep on any midseason moves, as they can significantly impact the playoffs.
Here's a look at the best free-agent option for each of the 32 NFL teams.
Arizona Cardinals: WR Dez Bryant
The Arizona Cardinals need help at wide receiver. Ageless legend Larry Fitzgerald, 35, had seven receptions for 76 yards in Week 1, but only one wideout caught a pass otherwise (rookie Christian Kirk with one).
Furthermore, the Cardinals' second- and third-leading pass-catchers Sunday were running backs, as David Johnson and Chase Edmonds amassed 37 and 24 yards, respectively.
The Cards struggled to move the ball all game and managed just six points in a home matchup with the Washington Redskins. They should reach out to former Dallas Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant, who was one of the best pass-catchers over a three-year stretch from 2012-14 (averaged 91 catches, 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns per season).
Bryant hasn't had a 1,000-yard campaign since then, as he's battled injuries, but the 29-year-old would likely be Arizona's second-best wide receiver. The former Oklahoma State star deserves a shot.
Atlanta Falcons: S Eric Reid
Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles and is out for the season.
The team just added safety Keith Tandy to the roster, but the best available option to replace Neal is free-agent safety Eric Reid, who spent his first five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
According to the Bleacher Report NFL1000 rankings, Reid was the 10th-best strong safety out of 54 last year.
Per NFL1000 scout Kyle Posey: "Reid excelled in the box. He was aggressive against the run and didn't miss too many tackles. He had no problem going out wide or playing in slot coverage either. Look for the impending free agent to have a big impact for whoever he plays for."
Reid, who protested systemic oppression during the national anthem by kneeling during the 2016-17 NFL seasons, tweeted in March that he believed owners were preventing him from coming to terms with a team.
The ex-LSU star is too good to be sitting at home right now, and signing Reid should be a serious consideration for the Falcons.
Baltimore Ravens: OG Luke Joeckel
The Baltimore Ravens could use some additional offensive line depth. James Hurst and Jermaine Eluemunor are the only backups at left tackle, left guard and right guard. Excellent starting right guard Marshal Yanda is turning 34 years old Saturday. As great as he has been, the Ravens may need a younger player to replace him down the line.
Free-agent guard Luke Joeckel, who was the second overall pick of the 2013 draft, should be an option for some added depth. Joeckel, who was drafted as a left tackle, didn't pan out in Jacksonville and dealt with significant injuries during his 2013 and 2016 seasons.
He parted ways with the Jaguars and signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks as a guard in 2017. Kenneth Arthur of SB Nation's Field Gulls praised Joeckel for his work, writing that the former Texas A&M lineman had proved "to be a very good NFL guard."
According to Arthur, last season Joeckel allowed just one pressure in a big game against the Jaguars, who arguably have the best defensive line in football.
Buffalo Bills: QB Colin Kaepernick
On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens were beating the Buffalo Bills 40-0 with about 25 minutes remaining. Bills starter Nathan Peterman had a quarterback rating of zero. Rookie signal-caller (and future starter) Josh Allen entered the game and completed just six of 15 passes for 74 yards. Both were sacked three times, and Peterman threw two interceptions.
It's clear that the Bills are going to be well out of playoff contention all season, and they are likely the lead candidates for the first overall pick of the 2019 draft. Based on how the first game went, it looks like they just need to survive the year.
They also need to protect the future of their franchise (Allen) behind an offensive line that has not pass-protected well thus far. It doesn't behoove Allen to be placed in a no-win situation to start his career, and he can also get hurt.
The Bills could use a mobile, turnover-averse quarterback to get them to 2019, when they can put themselves in a better position to compete around Allen. In other words, they could use someone similar to ex-Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is now a Cleveland Brown.
The closest thing to him is free agent Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for an average of 460.4 yards per season from 2012-16. He's also never thrown for more than 10 interceptions in any campaign.
Kaepernick protested systemic oppression by kneeling during the national anthem in the 2016 exhibition slate and regular season. He became a free agent in 2017 but didn't sign with a team. He later filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing it of collusion to keep him out of the league because of his protests.
From a football perspective, the Bills' best answer at quarterback for 2018 isn't on the roster. They should strongly consider giving Kaepernick a tryout to see where his game is at after a year-plus away.
Carolina Panthers: TE Nick O'Leary
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen suffered a refracture of his right foot in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys and did not return. Per a team statement, Olsen will be evaluated month to month.
The best option to replace him for now may be former Bills tight end Nick O'Leary, whom the B/R 1000 scouts ranked among the top 15 at his position last year. Here were their notes on the former Florida State star:
"He can play anywhere in the formation, block on the move and inline and is a dependable receiver. He came on toward the end of the season and had some big games despite misfires by the Bills quarterbacks. There were multiple passes that sailed outside O'Leary's reach or caused him to stop and lose yards-after-the-catch opportunities, which limited his production."
Rookie Ian Thomas will be the next man up for the Panthers, but someone with a little experience behind him (O'Leary was drafted in 2015) would be beneficial.
Chicago Bears: S Mike Mitchell
This one is a bit of a cheater pick, as free-agent safety Mike Mitchell had a tryout with the Chicago Bears on Monday, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
That being said, Mitchell is an excellent fit for a hard-hitting, physical and aggressive Bears defense whose identity in 2018 is being shaped by new edge-rusher Khalil Mack.
Mitchell logged an average of 71.5 tackles per year over his last four seasons, which all took place in Pittsburgh. He's also proved to be durable, as he hasn't missed more than three contests in any campaign since joining the league in 2009. From 2014-16, he started all 48 regular-season games.
He may not crack the Bears' starting lineup with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson at safety, but Mitchell should see a decent amount of snaps as a backup off the bench.
Cincinnati Bengals: OT Austin Howard
The season is only one week old, but the Cincinnati Bengals may need to find a new starter at right tackle soon.
They signed Bobby Hart as a free agent and placed him into that role to begin the season, but he had a rough game against the Indianapolis Colts. Per Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Hart allowed the only two Indy sacks of the afternoon. Both were from defensive end Margus Hunt, who had just 2.5 sacks in his last 60 games.
Hart also had the lowest Pro Football Focus grade of any Bengals offensive player, and he and guard Alex Redmond combined to give up 10 pressures.
In fairness to Hart, he's just 24 years old and could develop into a stronger tackle. But if Cincinnati looks for a free agent, Austin Howard should be a possibility. He ranked as a middle-of-the-road right tackle in 2017, per the B/R 1000 rankings, finishing 25th among 49 players at the position.
He's more adept at run-blocking than pass protection, but that should be a great benefit to emerging second-year running back Joe Mixon, who is clearly the team's No. 2 offensive threat behind superstar wideout A.J. Green.
Cleveland Browns: S T.J. Ward
A key member of the dominant Denver Broncos secondary known as the "No-Fly Zone," safety T.J. Ward was a superstar in the middle of the decade, making the Pro Bowl twice and winning the Super Bowl once.
But his career in Denver ended abruptly with a release prior to the 2017 campaign, and his stint that season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not go well. In a June interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio, Ward made his feelings known about his time there.
At 31 years old and with eight seasons behind him, Ward is almost certainly on the back end of his career. But he's proved himself to be a durable, reliable safety during much of that time, missing more than four games in a year just once (2011).
The Cleveland Browns should consider bringing Ward back to where he started his career (the former University of Oregon star spent his first four years with the team). Cleveland is set at the starting safety spots with second-year pro Jabrill Peppers and Damarious Randall, but the veteran Ward can provide depth and step in as a starter in case of injury.
He can also provide some leadership for a relatively young Browns defense with loads of talent, including defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward.
Dallas Cowboys: QB Matt Moore
After an eight-point output against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, the Dallas Cowboys offense looks like it's in serious trouble regardless of who starts at quarterback. However, if starter Dak Prescott goes down, backup Cooper Rush doesn't look like he's ready to take the reins based on his 2018 preseason performance.
Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News wrote about Rush after his first three outings:
"In three appearances, the former Central Michigan standout has thrown only one touchdown pass to two interceptions. Both turnovers occurred during the first half Sunday night. Rush got the start against Arizona. He played the first two quarters before rookie Mike White took over to start the third. Rush finished the night 11-of-17 passing for 93 yards, two interceptions and a 39.2 passer rating."
Of note, Rush didn't play well in the fourth game either (14-of-25, 83 yards, two interceptions). However, Machota noted that the team wasn't looking into a change at the No. 2 spot.
That being said, the 24-year-old Rush may be best suited as the No. 3 quarterback as he continues to develop. Veteran quarterback Matt Moore is available, and he's fared well when called upon in relief. Of note, he threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns in just under one half of football last year. That performance buoyed the Fins to a 31-28 win over the New York Jets.
Again, Moore won't be the team's savior if Prescott goes down, but he has 30 starts under his belt and can be called upon in a pinch.
Denver Broncos: TE Jace Amaro
This is a bit of a wild-card pick for the Denver Broncos, who look fairly well-rounded this year. But they could use more production out of the tight end spot.
Starter Jeff Heuerman had just 18 catches in his last two seasons. Jake Butt, a fifth-round pick in 2017, has potential but is coming off a torn ACL. He did have a promising start to his career with two catches and 29 yards against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
The Broncos should take a flier on another tight end and see which one ends up emerging as a consistent contributor. Jace Amaro, who was a second-round selection in 2014, could be that player. For what it's worth, the 26-year-old was also deemed worthy enough of a tryout with the Jaguars, one of the NFL's best teams, per Rapoport.
Amaro had a productive rookie season with the Jets, catching 38 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns. However, he suffered a torn labrum before the 2015 season, and that has more or less derailed his career. He missed all of 2015 before being waived the following preseason.
Then, he got stuck deep on the Titans' tight end depth chart in 2016. A reserve/futures contract signing with the Kansas City Chiefs this season went nowhere, and Amaro is now a free agent.
The 6'5", 265-pound tight end was a stud at Texas Tech, catching 106 passes for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns in his final year. It's difficult to imagine that he will come close to that production in the NFL, but if Amaro stays healthy and gets a chance, it'd be interesting to see what he's capable of today.
Detroit Lions: LB Brian Cushing
The Detroit Lions laid an egg Monday night as they lost to the New York Jets 48-17 at Ford Field.
You can take your pick on their most concerning issue, whether it be quarterback Matthew Stafford's four interceptions or a defense that allowed rookie signal-caller Sam Darnold to complete 80 percent of his passes after an interception on his first throw.
Another issue was the defense up front, which was poor all game. Of note, Jets running backs Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell combined for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. They both played well but were also the beneficiaries of massive holes opened up by their offensive line.
In sum, the Lions' defensive linemen and linebackers did not play well. Might Detroit consider looking into a free agent to shore up the front seven?
If so, inside linebacker Brian Cushing could be an option. The 31-year-old has battled injuries on and off during his career, but he is an adept run-stopper when healthy (he amassed 110 tackles in 16 games 2015). He's also been solid in pass defense, leading linebackers in most coverage snaps per reception allowed in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Lions and new head coach Matt Patricia need to figure out answers quickly after a difficult opening loss at home. Cushing could be part of the solution.
Green Bay Packers: LB Karlos Dansby
Linebacker Karlos Dansby told Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com in March that he hoped to land with a team for the 2018 season, but as of September, he has not done so.
The Green Bay Packers could be an option, as that position got much thinner with the loss of Jake Ryan to a torn ACL at the end of July.
Last month, Brian Jones of 247Sports looked into five linebackers Green Bay should consider, with one of them being Dansby.
"Dansby might be 36 years old, but he can still get the job done. Last year, Dansby recorded 94 tackles, one sack, one interception and four passes defended. He has played in a total of 212 games and he has played in all 16 games the last three seasons. Dansby has never reached a Pro Bowl, but he has put together a strong career [that] shows no signs of slowing down."
Zach Kruse of Packers Wire also listed him as an option.
Dansby has also been remarkably durable during his career, as he's never missed more than four games in a season. Furthermore, the ex-Auburn star has played 14 or more regular-season contests in all but one year. He would add a steady veteran presence at a position of need, and he would have a shot at a Super Bowl ring before hanging it up.
Houston Texans: CB Jeremy Lane
Houston Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson has suffered two concussions in the past few weeks, according to Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk.
Hopefully, the 26-year-old returns to full health soon.
If it looks like Johnson will be out for a long time, the Texans should pick up a free-agent cornerback, and former Seattle Seahawk Jeremy Lane is still out there.
The six-year veteran has spent his entire career in Seattle, starting in 21 of his 70 games. The Texans had the 13th-ranked rushing defense last season and allowed 122 yards on the ground to the New England Patriots in Week 1, and Lane is known as an excellent run-stopper. He was one of five cornerbacks to have 10-plus in 2016, per Pro Football Focus.
He's also played a lot on special teams and can contribute there as well.
Indianapolis Colts: SS Tyvon Branch
The Indianapolis Colts secondary is young and inexperienced, and it did not fare well in the Week 1 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Quarterback Andy Dalton completed 75 percent of his passes, and Indianapolis had trouble stopping Joe Mixon, who caught five passes for 54 yards out of the backfield and had 95 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Cincinnati won 34-23 on the road.
The Colts could use a veteran who can guide the young defensive backs and provide some additional help on the back line. Former Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tyvon Branch could be that player. He amassed 69 tackles in just nine games before a torn ACL cut short his 2017 season in November.
In April, general manager Steve Keim said the Cardinals were considering bringing him back and were "monitoring his situation."
If Branch is good to go, the Colts should reach out. They can use a hard-hitting safety who can provide leadership and help slow down opposing running backs.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Kenny Britt
The Jacksonville Jaguars look like a team with few weaknesses at first glance. Their defense is second to none. Their offensive line is solid, especially with the addition of free-agent guard Andrew Norwell. Quarterback Blake Bortles took a big step forward in 2017, and running back Leonard Fournette crossed the 1,000-yard mark in his rookie season last year.
But the loss of wideout Marqise Lee to a knee injury in the preseason may limit wide receiver production. In Week 1 against the New York Giants, no Jacksonville wideout had more than five catches or 54 yards. Granted, it's just one game against an underrated defense, but the team would be wise to keep an eye on how the passing game develops.
If it doesn't fare well, then Jacksonville could look outside the organization for help. Kenny Britt is an option, as the New England Patriots released him in August. A hamstring injury led to the split, but before then, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com praise the wideout, saying that he was the pass-catcher "who stood out the most" at organized team activities in May.
Britt had a down season in 2017, catching just 20 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns, but he snared 68 receptions for 1,002 yards and five scores on a Los Angeles Rams team with a struggling offense the year before. If he can return close to that form, the Jags would be getting a steal provided Britt's hamstring heals.
Kansas City Chiefs: CB Bashaud Breeland
The Kansas City Chiefs' pass defense struggled in its opening game as Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 424 yards and three touchdowns. Of note, the Bolts had trouble covering wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, who caught 13 passes on 17 combined targets.
K.C.'s defense struggled in the preseason, most notably when the starters allowed 21 points to the Chicago Bears' backups in the third week. While the offense looks like it will be lights-out thanks to the exploits of rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and others, the secondary looks like it could use another player.
Bashaud Breeland is still on the free-agent market. He signed with the Carolina Panthers in the offseason but failed a physical in March. If he's back to full health six months later, the Chiefs should take a flier on him.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com made a case for Breeland to the Chiefs in June. Of note, he wrote that the Chiefs "are perilously thin at cornerback after trading Marcus Peters and could give Breeland a chance to shine in a more productive defense before seeking a long-term deal again next offseason."
The team has since added Orlando Scandrick, but early returns on the secondary are not good. If the Chiefs pass defense continues to struggle, K.C. could look outside its roster for help.
Los Angeles Chargers: CB Robert McClain
Granted, the Los Angeles Chargers were without superstar edge-rusher Joey Bosa on Sunday, but their pass defense left a lot to be desired in a 38-28 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at StubHub Center. They had no answer for Hill, who caught seven passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns (he also added a punt-return score).
Admittedly, no one on the free-agent wire would be able to hang with the speedy Hill (few cornerbacks can). However, the Chargers need to do something to keep up with the high-flying Chiefs in the division, especially with cornerback Jason Verrett lost for the season due to a torn Achilles in July.
Robert McClain could be of assistance. He played a few games for the Bolts at the end of the 2016 campaign before signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that offseason. The 30-year-old then tied for the team lead in interceptions with three (including one returned for a touchdown) in addition to five passes defended. The veteran saw time at slot and outside cornerback last season, and that versatility could be beneficial while adding depth to the position.
Los Angeles Rams: LB Lawrence Timmons
Like a few other teams featured here, the Los Angeles Rams don't need to go scouring for free agents thanks to the well-roundedness of their roster. But veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who spent his first 10 years in Pittsburgh, could be a fit for L.A.
Timmons signed with the Miami Dolphins last year, but an odd incident in which he went AWOL and was then suspended by the team marred his time there. He is now a free agent, and he's arguably the best tackler left on the market.
Per Pro Football Reference, Timmons has amassed 100 or more tackles in all but two seasons this decade Adding him would be a luxury for the Rams, but it can't hurt to add yet another big name to a defense that already looks loaded.
Timmons could be especially beneficial against NFC teams the Rams may face in the postseason (should they make it) with strong running attacks, such as the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.
Miami Dolphins: LB Kevin Minter
The Miami Dolphins run defense was oft-maligned during the preseason, as it gave up a league-leading 151.5 yards per game on the ground. That improved in Week 1, as the Dolphins held the Tennessee Titans to 116 rushing yards on 29 carries (4.0 yards per carry) in their 27-20 win.
However, Titans running back Dion Lewis found success against Miami, running for 75 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. If the Dolphins' run-stopping issues rear their ugly head again, they may consider acquiring some help to address the issue.
One option is linebacker Kevin Minter, who most recently played for the Cincinnati Bengals. Minter ranked 34th out of 70 inside linebackers last season, according to the B/R 1000 scouts, who wrote, "Minter is a clean-up player that doesn't have the explosiveness of other linebackers in the AFC North, but he's a sure tackler who can fight through contact at the line of scrimmage."
The Dolphins may not need an explosive player, just one who can gum up running lanes. Minter is capable of doing that, so if the Fins continue to have trouble stopping the run, they should reach out to the ex-Bengal.
Minnesota Vikings: OG Jeremiah Sirles
On Monday, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer announced offensive lineman Aviante Collins is out for the season with an elbow injury, according to Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com.
As Cronin noted, the Vikings offensive line has already suffered numerous injuries:
"It's another blow to an offensive line that has dealt with injuries throughout the preseason. Minnesota lost left guard Nick Easton early in training camp after he underwent season-ending neck surgery on Aug. 9. Center Pat Elflein spent the entire preseason on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries, and was inactive for the Vikings' Week 1 win over San Francisco."
To bolster their O-line depth, the Vikings could consider Jeremiah Sirles. The 27-year-old played his last two seasons in Minnesota, and he can fill in at tackle or guard. He was in line to make the Carolina Panthers this year, but he suffered a hamstring injury and was placed on injured reserve. Carolina eventually released him.
On Sept. 6, Joe Person of The Athletic reported Sirles "got squeezed a bit in Carolina [because] of the other injuries along [the offensive line]. Per source, his hamstring should be 100 percent in a couple weeks and he'll be able to sign elsewhere."
Minnesota should look to re-sign Sirles when he's healthy, as he could provide some depth in what has turned into a dire situation on the offensive line.
New England Patriots: RB Orleans Darkwa
New England Patriots running back Jeremy Hill suffered a torn ACL in the Week 1 opener against the Houston Texans and is out for the season, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Depending on the status of rookie first-round pick Sony Michel, the Patriots may need to bolster their backfield.
One of the the best available free-agent running backs on the market is Orleans Darkwa, who last played for the New York Giants.
The 26-year-old was one of a few bright spots in a disastrous Giants season last year, as he rushed for 4.4 yards per carry and five touchdowns. He eclipsed the 100-yard barrier twice, including a 154-yard, one-touchdown performance to close the regular season.
Darkwa has yet to catch on with an NFL team this year, but an opportunity may present itself in New England.
New Orleans Saints: DE Robert Ayers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were heavy underdogs heading into their Week 1 game with the New Orleans Saints, but backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw four touchdowns, rushed for another and led his team to a 48-point outburst on the road.
Fitzpatrick was phenomenal all afternoon, but so was his offensive line, which prevented the 35-year-old from getting sacked. The lack of pressure helped Fitzpatrick get comfortable as he found his receivers wide open time and again.
In other words, the Saints pass rush needs to drastically improve over the coming weeks. New Orleans has plenty of defensive talent, most notably three-time Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan and first-round pick Marcus Davenport, but it might as well sign another edge-rusher and hope something clicks.
Former Bucs defensive end Robert Ayers could be that player.
Ayers is 33 years old and is likely nearing end of his career, but he had nine sacks in 2015 as a member of the New York Giants. If the Saints bring Ayers off the bench and task him with getting to the quarterback, he might be in a better position to succeed.
New York Giants: OT Derek Newton
New York Giants offensive tackle Ereck Flowers has not lived up to expectations after being drafted ninth overall in 2015. His struggles continued into Week 1 of this season, as the Jacksonville Jaguars destroyed him.
Dan Schneier of 247 Sports and CBS Sports didn't mince words when discussing Flowers' performance: "If the Giants lose this game, it's tough to not put the blame on Ereck Flowers. He immediately gave up a pressure on the tipped pick-six. He negated a 40-yd completion to Engram [with a] penalty. Gave up another sack, and took more penalties. Disastrous performance."
The Giants did end up losing, 20-15. At this point, it's fair to wonder how long Flowers hangs on to a starting job.
Former Texans offensive tackle Derek Newton could be a viable replacement. He started 68 games for the Texans between 2012 and 2016, but he tore both of his patellar tendons on the same play in a Week 7 game in 2016 and hasn't played since.
The Texans cut Newton in April, but according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, he "hasn't experienced any setbacks and had been making major progress in his recovery, by all accounts."
If Newton is healthy enough to contribute to a team, the Giants should give him a call. Per Pro Football Focus, Newton ranked among the league's top 26 offensive tackles during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He dipped in 2016 prior to his injury (47th out of 78), but if he returns to anywhere close to his previous form, he would be an upgrade over Flowers.
New York Jets: DT Johnathan Hankins
The New York Jets looked nearly invincible in their 48-17 annihilation of the Detroit Lions on Monday night. Gang Green picked off quarterback Matt Stafford four times en route to the victory.
Every positional unit played well during that performance, making it difficult to gauge which free agent could be most beneficial to the Jets. However, New York should still place a call to defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who remains on the open market.
The Jets and Hankins were in contact in April, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, but nothing ever materialized. Cimini backed a potential move, writing that the team "could utilize Hankins in hybrid fronts or rotate him with [nose tackle Steve] McLendon and [nose tackle Mike] Pennel." Cimini also said Hankins "is a good football player and he's certainly young enough to fit into the Jets' rebuilding movement."
Hankins is only 26 years old, so he has plenty of gas left in the tank. He's flashed excellent form in the past, most notably when he had seven sacks during the 2014 season as a member of the Giants.
The Jets defense looks strong, but bringing in Hankins on a one-year deal for additional defensive line depth sounds like a win-win situation.
Oakland Raiders: OLB/DE Junior Gallette
The Oakland Raiders could use another pass-rusher after trading Khalil Mack (36.5 sacks over the past three seasons) to the Chicago Bears on Sept. 2.
The Silver and Black still have defensive end Bruce Irvin, who had eight sacks last year and started his 2018 campaign with another one Monday against the Rams, but Oakland needs to improve the unit otherwise. Outside of Irvin, it doesn't return anyone who had more than one sack last year.
Defensive end Junior Galette could be an option. He notched 22 sacks during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but he lost two seasons to injury and wasn't the same when he returned in 2017 with the Washington Redskins. Galette wasn't a starter for Washington like he was with New Orleans, so he didn't see the field as much.
Galette reportedly had an offer to return to the Redskins, according to Ananth Pandian of Redskins Wire, but he turned it down. He claims he would never turn one down again, so the next team that extends him a contract offer may successfully obtain his services.
Oakland should reach out and use him as a situational pass-rusher.
Philadelphia Eagles: CB Delvin Breaux
The defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles have the luxury of being good to great at every position group. They somehow beat the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 without four starters (quarterback Carson Wentz, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and linebacker Nigel Bradham).
The Eagles don't need anyone on the free-agent market, but it's possible more injuries arise down the line, forcing them to search for someone outside the organization to fill a need.
If they need a late-season addition in their secondary, former New Orleans Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux should be available. Breaux was one of the best defensive backs in the league in 2015, as he gave up only one receiving yard over a three-game stretch, according to Pro Football Focus. However, Breaux fractured his fibula twice (once in 2016, once in 2017) and suffered a shoulder injury late in the 2016 season.
After no team signed Breaux this offseason, he went to the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He's stayed healthy, and in late August, three of seven writers on the CFL's official website named him a midseason all-star.
Breaux is under contract with the Tiger-Cats through the rest of the season, which may last until late November. He should be free to join the NFL afterward, so if a team is looking for reinforcements on the back line, it may give the ex-Saint a call.
The Eagles could afford the luxury, and a little more depth in the secondary can't hurt.
Pittsburgh Steelers: LB NaVorro Bowman
NaVorro Bowman was one of the NFL's best linebackers earlier this decade, as he earned first-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press from 2011 through 2013 as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
He suffered a torn MCL and ACL in the 2013 playoffs and missed all of 2014, but he returned in 2015 and tallied a career-high 154 tackles. A torn Achilles prematurely ended his 2016 season, but he returned in 2017 to make 127 tackles as a member of the 49ers and Oakland Raiders.
Bowman may not be the same player he was prior to his knee and Achilles injuries, but the 30-year-old showed last year that he's still plenty capable of playing in the league.
One possible destination for him is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who did not fare well against the run last year (sixth-most yards allowed per carry). Their struggles have continued into this year, as the Steelers allowed 177 yards on the ground against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1.
Bowman can help curtail opposing teams' run production.
San Francisco 49ers: OG Jahri Evans
Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area gave San Francisco's rushing offense a D in the team's 24-16 loss to Minnesota on Sunday. He noted "the 49ers had to play all seven of their active offensive linemen after starting right guard Mike Person and backup Joshua Garnett exited with foot injuries. So it's probably not a big surprise that the 49ers struggled to gain consistency on the ground."
Head coach Kyle Shanahan said the two guards are questionable for Sunday's game against Detroit, according to C.J. Peterson of the San Francisco Examiner. He said neither guard should be going on injured reserve, but if either is out for multiple games, then the 49ers could scour the free-agent market.
As is, Peterson noted "right guard has been an area of concern for the 49ers offense throughout all of the preseason and training camp this year heading into the regular season."
Offensive guard Jahri Evans is arguably the best interior lineman available on the free-agent market. The B/R 1000 scouts praised his 2017 work with the Packers, writing that he "once again displayed impressive play strength and bench-press ability in pass protection, helping hold together a banged-up Packers offensive line." Overall, Evans ranked 26th out of 83 guards.
Evans is 35 years old, but if he has another year left in him, the 49ers should place a call.
Seattle Seahawks: DE Kony Ealy
After the Seahawks lost 27-24 to the Broncos in Week 1, Gregg Bell of the News Tribune noted the big difference was the pass rush. Denver sacked Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson six times, while the Seahawks took Broncos signal-caller Case Keenum down only once in 40 dropbacks.
Without defensive end Michael Bennett, who is now in Philadelphia, Seattle's pass rush may need some reinforcements. One potential option is defensive end Kony Ealy, who had three sacks in Super Bowl 50 as a member of the Panthers.
Ealy, the 60th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, showcased his potential in that matchup, but he has not lived up to expectations throughout the rest of his career. He had 14 regular-season sacks in three seasons with the Panthers and has since bounced around the league.
The former Missouri Tiger played with the Jets last season, and although he had only one sack, Ealy had a knack for batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. Per Pro Football Focus, he was second in the league in that category, amassing nine in total. He was only one behind league leader Cameron Jordan of the Saints despite playing 536 fewer snaps.
Seattle needs to figure out how to get some pressure, and Ealy could be part of the solution.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB Jamaal Charles
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Ronald Jones with a second-round pick in April, but they declared him a healthy scratch for their opener against the Saints. As Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times noted, Jones had a rough preseason, rushing for only 22 yards on 28 carries (0.8 yards per carry).
Jones is only 21 years old and has plenty of talent, but he may not be ready for prime time right now. If that's the case, the Bucs should look to get a veteran runner to bolster their backfield, such as former Chiefs star Jamaal Charles.
At 31 years old, Charles' best days are behind him, but he was respectable in limited action for the Broncos last year, averaging 4.3 yards per carry on 69 rushes and catching 23 passes for 129 yards. He could provide a change of pace for starter Peyton Barber, a tough runner who is not known for his pass-catching prowess.
The Bucs can also call upon Jacquizz Rodgers, but having Charles as additional backfield insurance while Jones acclimates to the NFL would be wise.
Tennessee Titans: WR Jeremy Maclin
Only two Titans wideouts caught the ball in their Week 1 loss to the Dolphins. Corey Davis snatched six passes for 62 yards, while Tajae Sharpe had one reception for 17 yards.
Davis, the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, has the potential to emerge as a star wideout. But outside of him, Tennessee has a lot of questions marks on its receiver depth chart.
The Titans should get some help from Rishard Matthews, who is rounding into form following his return from the physically unable to perform list in late August. Matthews should be a bigger contributor down the line (he played only 52 percent of the snaps Sunday), but the team still needs more depth at the position.
Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin are arguably the top two free-agent wide receivers available. The latter has battled numerous injuries over the past few years that forced him to miss eight games. Those ailments affected his production, as he amassed three fewer catches (84) in his past two seasons than he did in 2015 alone (87).
That being said, Maclin still may be a decent third receiving option behind Davis and Matthews. The team desperately needs more pass-catching help with tight end Delanie Walker now out for the year with an ankle injury.
Washington Redskins: WR Brice Butler
The Redskins have already lost one big playmaker this year, as exciting rookie running back Derrius Guice is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Washington could use someone else with the potential for explosive plays, even at another position.
The Redskins signed speedy free-agent wideout Paul Richardson to help do just that, but adding Brice Butler to the back end of their wideout depth chart couldn't hurt.
Butler was first in the league last year in yards per reception (21.1) among players who caught at least 10 passes. He caught only 15 balls last year, but he was buried on the Cowboys' depth chart.
If given more of an opportunity to shine, Butler could provide Washington with an additional deep threat.