Ranking the Top 10 NFL Free Agents Left on the Market

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 27, 2020

Ranking the Top 10 NFL Free Agents Left on the Market

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    By Spotrac's count, 247 NFL free agents had signed new contracts when the ninth day of the new league year concluded Thursday evening. 

    But that left 360 players on the open market. 

    Before we wrap up the first full week of NFL free agency, here's a rundown—based on past accomplishments, growth potential, or both—of the top 10 guys still unemployed.

         

10. DT Shelby Harris

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    Shelby Harris has just 22 career starts under his belt, but the versatile 28-year-old has quietly exploded the last two years with the Denver Broncos.

    Harris posted an elite 90.4 overall PFF grade on limited snaps in 2018, and then he became a starter and recorded a career-high six sacks while exhibiting discipline and prowess as a run defender and pass-rusher in 2019.

    He's a strong, high-energy player who can serve as a reliable if not spectacular 3- or 5-technique starter or as a nose tackle with a lighter load, which should make the 2014 seventh-round pick extremely appealing in the second wave of free agency. 

    It's surprising he's yet to land a new employer. 

9. OL Daryl Williams

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    Right now in particular, 2017 feels like a longgggg time ago. But we're only two seasons removed from the 2017 NFL campaign, and Daryl Williams was one of the most dominant right tackles in the NFL that year. 

    A major knee injury destroyed his attempt at an encore and killed his momentum in 2018, and he wasn't as consistently effective coming back from said injury in 2019, but the 2015 fourth-round pick did get a chance to flash his versatility by stepping in at every position along the Carolina Panthers offensive line except center last season.

    He's still only 27, he's a superb run-blocker and he's got a lot of upside. He's also flown under the radar, possibly because an unusual number of big-name offensive linemen hit the market this month. 

    Williams might have to settle for a short prove-it contract at this point, but don't be surprised if the talented, accomplished and disciplined Oklahoma product blows away expectations as either a tackle or a guard in a new environment in 2020. 

8. CB Daryl Worley

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    The Raiders surrendered a tied-for-league-worst 8.3 yards per pass attempt and an AFC-worst 103.8 passer rating in 2019, and it's not as though cornerback Daryl Worley was a diamond in the rough. The 2016 third-round pick lacked consistency in an up-and-down fourth pro season, which combined with that Raiders defensive stink could explain why he's yet to land a new deal on the open market. 

    But Worley, who just turned 25, still has room to become a shutdown corner, and the 2019 campaign was still his best season yet in coverage. He struggled at times early and late in the season but enjoyed an extended stretch without giving up many big plays in October and November. Ultimately, he surrendered completions on just 53.5 percent of the passes thrown into his coverage.

    Worley is big, fast and athletic. He can become a No. 1 corner in this league. Somebody will likely get a great price for a player with a ceiling that is a lot higher than most of the free agents still available. 

7. Edge Markus Golden

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    With very little support as part of a weak New York Giants defense last season, edge defender Markus Golden proved two important things. 

    First, Golden, who tore his ACL in 2017 and wasn't himself coming off that devastating injury in 2018, started all 16 games for the first time in his NFL career. 

    Second, he made it clear that his 12.5-sack 2016 campaign wasn't a fluke with the second double-digit-sack season of his career. 

    He had 10 along with a career-high 27 quarterback hits, a career-best 72 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and a defensive touchdown. And according to Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, the 29-year-old's 64 total pressures ranked 15th in the NFL. 

    Golden should have plenty of tread on his tires and has room to grow in what should be his prime. He could serve as a top-notch complementary edge-rusher on a lot of rosters. 

6. CB Logan Ryan

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    Veteran cornerback Logan Ryan struggled often enough in a slot coverage role last season that he wasn't able to land a big-money contract in the first wave of free agency. But the 29-year-old's significant experience with both the New England Patriots and the Tennessee Titans should make him a valuable asset wherever he lands next. 

    It helps that Ryan was a top-notch playmaker in 2019. He was the only player in the NFL to intercept four passes and force four fumbles, and he added a pick in the playoffs. 

    That came after he struggled to make splash plays in his first two seasons with the Titans, but it might not have been a fluke. After all, he picked off 13 passes in his first four seasons in New England. 

    Ryan will cause some frustration with lapses in coverage wherever he goes, but the good greatly outweighs the bad for a versatile defensive back who has missed just three games in seven seasons. 

5. QB Jameis Winston

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    On one hand, it's easy to see why Jameis Winston remains unemployed. In 2019, he became the first player in over 30 years to throw 30 interceptions in a season. And since coming into the league in 2015, he's turned the ball over a jaw-dropping 111 times. 

    But on the other hand, Winston's raw talent is undeniable. The 2015 No. 1 overall pick just turned 26 in January, and he's the league's reigning leader in passing yardage. He also threw an NFC-high 33 touchdown passes in 2019, he was the only quarterback in football to complete more than 30 30-yard throws, and he led all passers by a wide margin in deep completions. 

    That's certainly worthy of an NFL roster spot. 

    The problem might be that Winston could have to wait for other developments or other dominos to fall. He's not exactly well-suited for a backup role because of his all-or-nothing nature, and 2015 MVP Cam Newton likely has more clout on the free-agent market. 

    This could take time. 

4. OT Jason Peters

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    This year's market was flooded with an unusually high number of high-quality offensive linemen, which could help explain why future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jason Peters remains available. It also doesn't help Peters' case that he's 38 and has missed 12 games the last three seasons.

    But Peters is an accomplished veteran at one of the most important positions in the game, and he still managed to post the sixth-highest PFF grade among qualified tackles in 2019. 

    Soon, a team in win-now mode will realize it's better off gambling that the nine-time Pro Bowler can hold up and stay healthy in his age-38 season than rolling with a less established player at either tackle position (we're looking at you, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota Vikings). 

    However, that might not happen until Trent Williams' future has been settled, and maybe not until after the 2020 draft. 

3. Edge Everson Griffen

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    Like Peters, veteran edge defender Everson Griffen might be low on fuel late in his career. But also like Peters, he's a highly accomplished player at a premium position coming off a strong season. 

    The 32-year-old earned his fourth career Pro Bowl nod with eight sacks, 24 quarterback hits and 66 total pressures as an ideal complement to Danielle Hunter for the Minnesota Vikings in 2019. He was also a game-wrecker in the Vikings' surprise playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints, which bodes well for his ability to remain effective in 2020. 

    If he can find the right fit this offseason, it wouldn't be surprising to see the 2010 fourth-round pick register double-digit sacks for the fourth time in the last seven years. 

    But for now, he might have to await movement from the market's consensus No. 1 edge defender, Jadeveon Clowney

2. Edge Jadeveon Clowney

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    ESPN's Dianna Russini reported last week that Clowney wants "about" $20 million per year, but the fact that he's never had double-digit sacks in a season could be a problem. 

    Still, we're talking about one of the best all-around edge defenders in the NFL, and one who should only be entering his prime at age 27. Since the start of the 2017 season, only 10 edge defenders have higher PFF grades than Clowney, who forced four fumbles in only 13 games with the Seattle Seahawks during the 2019 campaign. And he's got three Pro Bowl nods under his belt. 

    Clowney is already a star, and he has the pedigree and ability to become a game-changing player in this league. He'll sign a lucrative contract somewhere and immediately become the top edge presence on that team's roster.

    The question now is whether he'll look to prove he's worth $20 million per year by taking a shorter deal this offseason. At this point, it doesn't look as though he'll hit that goal. 

1. QB Cam Newton

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    Injuries have essentially destroyed Newton's last two seasons, and those interested in the freshly released veteran quarterback might want to get a look at him with a physical that can't yet happen.

    But Newton is one of just seven active MVP winners, he's one of the most uniquely talented players in the NFL, and he's still only 30. 

    That's young in quarterback terms, even for a guy who's been routinely bruised and battered since coming into the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2011. 

    Newton is the only player in NFL history with 100 touchdown passes and 50 rushing touchdowns. If the three-time Pro Bowler can get and stay healthy in the right spot, he absolutely has the ability to return to superstardom and make multiple Super Bowl runs. 

       

    Stats via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.