Finding Ideal Homes for the Best Free Agents Left on the Market
While the spotlight shines on rookie minicamps and how the new draft classes fit with teams, NFL front offices have shifted back to browsing free agency.
This isn't anything out of the ordinary, though it is fascinating that some massive names remain on the post-draft market such as Ndamukong Suh and Eric Berry. Also, the amount of cap space sitting around is just silly: Thirteen teams still have north of $20 million to spend.
With half the league sitting on droves of space and big names out there, where these players decide to sign and for what amount will generate the biggest NFL headlines during the dry period before training camp.
Here's a look at the best fits for each free agent based on team need, scheme fit and more.
Morris Claiborne, CB: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's surprising that a premium position like cornerback still offers a player like Morris Claiborne at this stage of the offseason.
Claiborne, after all, was the No. 6 pick in 2012 and is only 29 years old. He's had some problems staying on the field throughout his career and only has seven interceptions, but it would be erroneous to pretend he can't boost some team's depth chart. Three of his seven picks came over the healthiest stretch of his career with the Jets the last two years.
Presumably, the problem might be the financial side. The cornerback market wasn't amazing this year with guys like Darqueze Dennard even settling for one-year deals. Now, Claiborne and his reps have to deal with the fact another rookie class has entered the league.
It might be time for a prove-it deal for Claiborne again, this time with a team such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He shouldn't have a hard time entering the mix for a team that seems to struggle at the position annually and only boasts Carlton Davis and Vernon Hargreaves III at the top of the depth chart.
Danny Shelton, DL: Cincinnati Bengals
It's easy to forget about Danny Shelton, though his potential value to a team as a rotational, run-stuffing piece at a minimum shouldn't go understated.
Shelton played that role for the New England Patriots last year and could do so again with a new team. He's at least intriguing because he was the No. 12 overall pick in 2015 and is only 25 years old. Bill Belichick's staff thought enough of him to bring him over via trade and get him in a lineup.
In other words, it is only a matter of time for Shelton. This is a move a team like the Cincinnati Bengals loves, which would explain why ESPN's Field Yates reported in March the two sides had a meeting.
The Bengals did draft Renell Wren in the fourth round last month but still need a run-stopper in the rotation after erratic showings from guys like Andrew Billings and Ryan Glasgow next to Geno Atkins. Thanks to that inconsistency, they ranked 29th against the run last year by allowing 137.8 yards per game.
Tre Boston, S: Washington Redskins
Tre Boston slipped through the cracks of free agency, which is rather understandable given the class boasted Landon Collins, Earl Thomas, Adrian Amos, Tyrann Mathieu, Lamarcus Joyner, Eric Reid, Eric Weddle, just to name a few.
The lack of interest in Boston is a product of the market, not his ability as a player. After all, he's a 26-year-old safety who just had 79 tackles and three interceptions last year for the Arizona Cardinals.
In the wake of the draft, Boston going to the Washington Redskins seems to make the most sense. He'd get to start right away next to $84 million man Collins for a defense absolutely loaded in the front seven already.
The Redskins have had arguably the most noteworthy turnover of anyone at the position this year after losing D.J. Swearinger Sr. and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix before adding Collins. Boston would be a sensible way to cap off the big change for both parties.
Eric Berry, S: Dallas Cowboys
Despite his inability to stay on the field lately, five-time Pro Bowler Eric Berry remains one of the more recognizable names in the NFL.
Understandably, though, Berry didn't find a home before the draft and could have to wait quite a bit longer to get a deal. He could be an upgrade for a handful of teams right away, but the specter of availability looms large considering he's played in just three games over the past two seasons.
But even the casual NFL fan knows about the flirtation between the Dallas Cowboys and Earl Thomas before Thomas wound up with the Chicago Bears. It would be quite a Cowboys-ish move to add a big name like Berry at some point in the process.
And why not? Other than adding a depth piece in George Iloka and using a sixth-round pick on the position, the Cowboys haven't done much to address the position and are looking at starting Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath.
Berry is an upgrade if he's healthy, so the pairing makes sense on multiple levels, though it feels like a mid-training-camp move.
Jay Ajayi, RB: Atlanta Falcons
Jay Ajayi is another player who was predictably going to have to wait for the market and draft to reshape the league before finding a new home.
Ajayi has injury issues chasing him into this offseason, as a torn ACL forced him to miss the remaining 12 games a season ago. But he shouldn't have to wait too much longer, especially with a team like the Atlanta Falcons still out there.
The Falcons lost Tevin Coleman to the open market, meaning the team's leading rusher from a year ago and 44 targets in the passing game walked out the door. The plan seems to be to throw Ito Smith into a bigger role with Devonta Freeman or allocate snaps to some of the backs further down the depth chart.
But Ajayi could arrive and instantly be the second-best back on the team. With a career average of 4.5 yards per carry, he could soak up some of the early-down work while allowing Freeman to handle passing-down snaps, as he'd still function as the primary receiving threat out of the backfield.
Nick Perry, EDGE: New York Jets
Nick Perry found himself on the outs with the Green Bay Packers, who decided to open the checkbook for the tandem of Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith instead.
It has left Perry in a bad spot and perhaps about to settle for a one-year, prove-it deal with a team that fancies itself a contender or is in need of a big boost.
Perry hasn't been bad, but just 1.5 sacks over nine games in 2018 weren't going to cut it after he signed a big extension on the heels of an 11-sack 2016 campaign.
The New York Jets have shown a willingness to flaunt their money and could offer a lump sum for at least one year. Le'Veon Bell's and C.J. Mosley's contracts show the front office wants to spend, and nearly getting Anthony Barr suggests they still want help getting after the quarterback. If Perry can succeed while Quinnen Williams, Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson open up pressure-creating lanes, he could earn himself another big deal next offseason.
Ndamukong Suh, DL: Los Angeles Chargers
The exact reason Ndamukong Suh continues to loiter on the free-agent market is hard to nail down.
Potential cost, age (32) and a so-so performance last year with the Los Angeles Rams while playing next to Aaron Donald could all be factors. He was still solid against the run, but he regressed and had the worst pass-rushing grade of his career, per Pro Football Focus.
But Suh doesn't figure to be out of work for too much longer as training camps approach this summer. Schematically, he'd be a fun fit for a contender like the Los Angeles Chargers, coming off their loss of Darius Philon in the middle. And Suh has said the West Coast is ideal, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media (h/t Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk).
The combination of a veteran who wants to win, an ideal locale and a Chargers team that wouldn't mind paying up for improved odds of winning it all makes this scenario seem not only ideal but a little predictable.
Michael Crabtree, WR: New England Patriots
Michael Crabtree was a casualty in the Baltimore Ravens' quest to remake the passing game around budding quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Crabtree could instead be rewarded with a chance to play for a favorite.
At this stage of his career and 31 years old, Crabtree has something to offer a winner if he doesn't want to demand an every-down role.
The 10-year veteran might have to compromise if a team like the New England Patriots shows interest. The Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski this offseason, so the focus has shifted to wideout, where they re-signed Phillip Dorsett and added Bruce Ellington, Demaryius Thomas and first-round pick N'Keal Harry.
This is where the "but" comes in: Ellington has already been cut, Dorsett isn't a No. 1, Thomas is coming off a brutal Achilles injury, and Harry is a rookie at one of the toughest positions to succeed right away. Josh Gordon is also back on a restricted deal, though reinstatement is up in the air. None are even guaranteed to mitigate the loss of Chris Hogan.
Crabtree, on the other hand, is a reliable vet—he's only missed two games in the last five seasons—who still put up eight-plus scores in three consecutive seasons before last year's regression with a rookie under center.