Best Under-the-Radar Free Agents Who Can Make an Impact in 2019

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 14, 2019

Best Under-the-Radar Free Agents Who Can Make an Impact in 2019

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    At this point, free agency is under the radar in general. The process hits a climax as soon as it kicks off in March and swiftly fades from our radar as draft hype takes over. 

    But free agency never really ends, and plenty of quality players continue to linger on the open market, awaiting June 1 cuts, injuries or other changes to circumstances that will pave the way for new opportunities. 

    So while you're probably well aware that a few big shots like Ndamukong Suh, Eric Berry and Jay Ajayi remain on the market, don't forget about these 10 slightly-lesser-heralded veterans. 

           

WR Michael Crabtree

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    Because Michael Crabtree turns 32 in September, he won't likely fetch a long-term contract this offseason. But the 10-year veteran is only a couple seasons removed from a 1,000-yard campaign and is just a single year removed from an eight-touchdown season. 

    The 2018 Baltimore Ravens lacked consistency and stability in the passing game, but Crabtree still caught a solid 54 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns without missing a start. 

    That durability could be crucial. Crabtree has missed just two games due to injury in his last five seasons, and he's missed more than two games in just two of his 10 NFL campaigns. 

    Somebody will value his experience, reliability and consistency, but it might take an injury to a projected key receiver before that happens because there's been no word on potential interest in Crabtree in the 2019 offseason. 

WR Kelvin Benjamin

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    Kelvin Benjamin has switched teams midway through back-to-back seasons. And while that's an indictment on Benjamin's value as an NFL wide receiver, it's fair to wonder if that lack of stability has contributed to his downfall in recent years. 

    Only five years ago, Benjamin was a first-round rookie who went over 1,000 yards with the Carolina Panthers. Three years ago, he came back from a torn ACL and scored seven touchdowns while falling just short of the 1,000-yard mark. And even in an interrupted 2017 season in which he got traded to the Buffalo Bills, the Florida State product caught a career-high 61.5 percent of his passes while registering another 692 receiving yards. 

    Benjamin's catch rate was an atrocious 37.3 percent during a rocky 2018 campaign, and it was so bad he was released by the Bills in December. But the Buffalo passing game wasn't reliable last year, and there might still be hope for the 28-year-old Benjamin in the right offense. 

    We know the guy can make plays. Now we'll see if he can get back to where he was in 2014 and 2016. 

OT Donald Penn

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    In the right environment, a 36-year-old Donald Penn could be as effective at the offensive tackle position as a 37-year-old Andrew Whitworth was with the 2018 Los Angeles Rams.

    Whitworth and Jason Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles (also 37) can attest that the offensive tackle position has a damn long shelf life, and the circumstances just have to emerge in Penn's favor. 

    A groin injury cost Penn much of his final season with the Oakland Raiders, but the 12-year vet was a Pro Bowler in Oakland in 2016 and 2017. If he can bounce back, he could provide an upgrade for a lot of teams at right tackle. And at the very least, he could work as a high-quality swing tackle who would provide insurance while also bringing experience and wisdom to whichever locker room he joins. 

    Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reported that the Texans were interested in Penn during the first week of free agency. They didn't land him, but it's likely only a matter of time before he ends up somewhere and contributes. 

DT Danny Shelton

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    Danny Shelton is only 25 years old, and just four years ago he was the No. 12 overall pick of the 2015 draft. The defensive tackle clearly has not lived up to expectations, but the New England Patriots felt strongly enough about Shelton to trade a third-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for him and a fifth-rounder last offseason. 

    And while it's somewhat discouraging that the Pats haven't re-signed Shelton after one quiet season in Foxborough, he's always been a solid run defender and still has upside.

    "Shelton played only 34.4 percent of New England’s total snaps," wrote Rob Hamilton of Pro Football Focus earlier this offseason, "but finished with a strong 77.0 overall grade in 2018."

    ESPN's Field Yates reported that the big run-stuffer visited the Cincinnati Bengals in March. That obviously didn't pan out, but it'd be surprising if Shelton didn't land a job as a high-potential rotational player this summer. 

DT Corey Liuget

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Longtime San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget never became the superstar many hoped he'd be as a No. 18 overall selection in 2011, but the eight-year veteran still has over 100 career starts under his belt at the age of 29. 

    Liuget is a reliable player in his prime who has received interest on the second-wave free-agent market but has yet to sign anywhere, possibly because he's coming off a torn quad that cost him the majority of his 2018 campaign with the Bolts. 

    Like Shelton, Liuget is a strong run defender who will come cheap and without a major long-term commitment but offers potential growth in addition to stability as part of a rotation. He also comes from a winning atmosphere and would bring experience and leadership to his next NFL locker room. 

OLB Shane Ray

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Not only are age (he's 25) and pedigree (he was a first-round pick four years ago) on Shane Ray's side, but the pass-rusher is also only a couple of years removed from an eight-sack season with the Denver Broncos. He's executed at the NFL level, which is why it's surprising he's still a free agent in the middle of May. 

    The Missouri product has reportedly visited with several teams this offseason, but it's possible he had to wait for the Ziggy Ansah domino to fall. Now that Ansah has signed with the Seattle Seahawks, Ray might be the most intriguing pass-rusher on the market. 

    He struggled from both a durability and a productivity standpoint the last two years, but he was also a bit of an odd man out in a defense that featured Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Derek Wolfe and Shaquil Barrett. 

    Could a fresh environment help Ray finally live up to his potential? We'll likely find out soon.

LB Josh Bynes

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    Josh Bynes finds himself in the unusual position of being ignored on the free-agent market following a career year. 

    Of course, a thumb injury that cost him the final five games of that breakout season might be hurting his cause, and it's possible potential suitors are concerned that his strong 11-game sample with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 was a fluke. After all, the 29-year-old linebacker failed to make much of an impact in his previous seven seasons with the Ravens, Detroit Lions and Cardinals. 

    Still, Bynes is on the right side of 30, and he couldn't possibly cost much guaranteed money at this stage of the offseason.

    PFF noted that Bynes "brought stability to the Cardinals' run defense, finishing with a grade of 81.1," while the Auburn product recorded 75 tackles, five passes defensed and a pair of sacks. He's good enough to compete for a starting job as an off-ball linebacker on a lot of NFL rosters.

CB Morris Claiborne

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Like Bynes, Morris Claiborne is coming off the most productive season of his career. He's also 29, and unlike Bynes, he has a lot of pedigree as a top-10 draft pick from 2012. He's yet to become the shutdown cornerback the Dallas Cowboys envisioned when they picked him sixth overall that year, but he's missed just two games the last two years with the New York Jets and he's coming off his first multi-interception campaign. 

    "While Claiborne did not grade out particularly well in his two seasons with the Jets (62.9 in 2017 and 62.7 in 2018), he was very dependable," wrote PFF's Ben Linsey. "He started 30 of 32 possible games and logged 1,921 snaps over the two seasons." And for what it's worth, he's a decent run defender.

    Claiborne has the experience, reputation and upside to serve as at least a No. 3 outside cornerback and a built-in insurance policy in an NFL secondary. 

S Tre Boston

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Tre Boston can't catch a break in free agency. 

    Last offseason, despite the fact that he was coming off a five-interception 2017 campaign with the Chargers, Boston didn't land a contract until he signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Cardinals in July.

    Now he's coming off another solid season in which he intercepted three passes, recorded a career-high 66 solo tackles and registered a career-best nine passes defensed, but the 2014 fourth-round pick remains on the open market in mid-May. 

    Only five NFL players have more interceptions than the 26-year-old since the start of 2017, so it's shocking that he remains unsigned. But it'll happen, and whoever signs him won't likely regret it. 

    "For some reason, Boston's name refuses to be mentioned when talking about quality safeties on the free-agent market," PFF's Michael Renner wrote back in March. "His loss will be some team's gain though, as his 82.2 overall grade over the past two seasons is 15th-best among safeties in the NFL."

S Glover Quin

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    Glover Quin might not be the same player he was half a decade ago, but the 33-year-old remains steady and reliable. He hasn't missed a single start since his rookie season in 2009, and he's coming off his 10th consecutive 55-plus-tackle campaign. 

    The 2014 Pro Bowler failed to intercept a pass with the Lions in 2018, but he tallied 19 total picks in his previous five seasons. And he was still strong overall both in coverage and run defense last year. Plus, he finished well, making the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week for Week 16. 

    In a February interview with The Pride Podcast (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press), Quin suggested he was considering retiring. But the man has gas left in the tank, and in the right spot he could play an important role as a consistent and accomplished leader in 2019. 

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