Cam Newton and 7 Other NFL Free Agents We Can't Believe Haven't Found a Home Yet
It has been the oddest of NFL offseasons. With the COVID-19 pandemic putting most of America under restrictions for much of the spring, a massive monkey wrench has been thrown into most offseason activities.
Nowhere is that more evident than in free agency.
It's hardly unprecedented for a big name or two to still be looking for work in May. But this year's list of available players on Memorial Day weekend is mind-boggling. Whether it's on the offensive line, the defensive front or the secondary, several multi-time Pro Bowlers are still searching for homes.
There's even an MVP quarterback who still doesn't have a team.
For some players, it's a matter of timing—they were released late in the offseason. For others, it's a matter of health—with facilities closed, players can't be brought in for interviews (and the physicals that come with them).
Whatever the reason, it's hard to believe some of these stars will likely head into June still looking for a team.
So the least we can do is help by pointing out the best fit for each.
As recently as 2017, Cam Newton passed for 3,302 yards and led the Panthers to 11 wins and a playoff spot. Just one year ago, there was no doubt Newton would open the 2019 campaign as Carolina's starting quarterback.
Then came another injury-marred season in Charlotte. And a changing of regimes in Carolina. New head coach Matt Rhule decided a change under center was necessary. Teddy Bridgewater signed with Carolina in free agency.
Just like that, Newton was out of a job—and with the pandemic precluding teams from hosting Newton for a visit (and a physical), the three-time Pro Bowler remains on the outside looking in.
Best Fit: New England Patriots
Bill Belichick can talk up second-year pro Jarrett Stidham until he's Patriots-blue in the face. So can Stidham's teammates. But the reality is that we're talking about a Day 3 pick who has attempted four NFL passes.
Will lightning really strike twice in Foxborough? It's doubtful.
As Michael David Smith reported for Pro Football Talk, Newton recently posted an Instagram video that showed him moving around and throwing well. He's one of just six active quarterbacks who have an MVP award on their professional resumes.
It's a hard sell to convince anyone that Stidham gives the Pats a better chance to win in 2020 than Newton.
Unless, of course, the Patriots aren't interested in winning this year at all.
It's crossroads time for Jadeveon Clowney.
In 2014, Clowney was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft—a ridiculously athletic edge-rusher who was on the giving end of maybe the biggest hit in college football history.
Admit it: You thought Vincent Smith's head was still inside his helmet when it popped off.
However, things haven't gone according to plan in the NFL. There have been flashes—Clowney has emerged as a ferocious edge-setter against the run and made three Pro Bowls. But the big-time sack numbers just haven't been there, and Clowney has missed games with assorted injuries in four of six seasons.
Add those injury concerns (and teams' inability to examine Clowney) to the 27-year-old's robust, albeit reduced, contract demands and you have a perfect storm that has left one of this year's top defensive free agents still looking for work.
Best Fit: Tennessee Titans
It's tempting to list the Seattle Seahawks here—they desperately need edge-rush help and haven't closed the door on bringing Clowney back. But while that door may not have closed yet, reports say it's swinging in the wrong direction.
With just under $21 million in cap space, the Titans have the wiggle room to bring in Clowney on a short-term deal. The team needs help on the edge—especially in run defense. And there's a level of familiarity between player and team—Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was Clowney's position coach for three years and the defensive coordinator for a year in Houston.
One month ago, guard Larry Warford wasn't worried about finding a new team. He was a high-end interior lineman coming off his third straight Pro Bowl trip who was about to begin preparations for another year as a starter for the New Orleans Saints.
Then the Saints spent a first-round pick on Michigan center Cesar Ruiz, and just like that, everything changed.
The biggest problems facing the 28-year-old Warford are twofold. The first is a matter of circumstance—Warford wasn't released until after the 2020 draft. Teams that might have been suitors for him in March either filled that need or spent their cap space elsewhere.
There's also a matter of fit. Warford is one of the best run-blocking guards in the NFL, but the 6'3", 317-pounder is a classic road-grading power-blocker who is only average in pass protection. Teams that employ a zone-blocking scheme aren't especially likely to make a sizable investment in Warford.
Best Fit: Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears should be on that list.
They made improvements up front in free agency with the signing of Germain Ifedi, but the 2016 first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks hasn't been the player Warford has and was brought in on a one-year contract.
Most importantly, as Mark Potash reported for the Chicago Sun-Times, improving the run game has been a priority for Bears head coach Matt Nagy this offseason.
Warford's addition would most assuredly accomplish that goal.
Everson Griffen doesn't have the highest national profile. But the 32-year-old has carved out quite the career by rushing the passer.
Over 10 years with the Minnesota Vikings, Griffen has amassed 74.5 sacks—which puts him fourth in franchise history behind Hall of Famers John Randle and Chris Doleman and defensive end Jared Allen. Griffen has topped the 10-sack mark three times and been named to the Pro Bowl in four of the past five seasons.
Like many of the players listed here, Griffen's biggest problem in finding work is the circumstances that face many free agents in 2020. Griffen's also getting up there in age and has missed time in three straight years—including five games in 2018 while he struggled with his mental health.
Per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com, Griffen said the trials of 2018 were a blessing in disguise.
"I'm happy that 2018 happened," he said, "because I wouldn't be sitting here today, being able to tell my story and showing teams that I am strong, I am healthy and there's nothing really that you have to worry about, because I'm doing all the right things."
It would be a lot easier for Griffen to convince potential suitors that were the case if he could actually, you know, meet with them.
Best Fit: Seattle Seahawks
When the gang at ESPN recently pegged its top fits for remaining free agents, there were opinions galore. But where Griffen was concerned, they were unanimous in their belief that his best bet for a new home is the Pacific Northwest.
"The Seahawks are a zone-heavy team that relies on the front four to create pressure," Matt Bowen wrote. "That's why I like Griffen in Seattle. He's an easy fit in the Seahawks' 40 front with the experienced technique, power and short-area speed to get to the quarterback."
Add in that Griffen played for Pete Carroll at USC, and this one almost makes too much sense.
Devonta Freeman is unique on this list in at least one regard: The veteran running back reportedly has an offer to join a new team.
According to Michael Silver of the NFL Network, the Seahawks have offered the 28-year-old Freeman, who had 656 yards and two scores on the ground last year for the Atlanta Falcons, a one-year deal that could be worth up to $4 million. The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets have also expressed interest in Freeman.
His last two years haven't gone well—he missed almost the entire 2018 season with knee and groin injuries, and the 3.6 yards per carry he averaged a year ago was a career low.
But we are talking about a player who has been to two Pro Bowls, posted four seasons with over 1,000 total yards, has 257 career receptions and led the league with 11 rushing scores in 2015.
If Freeman can recapture even part of that form, he could offer quite a bit in 2020.
Best Fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers haven't been mentioned as one of the teams interested in Freeman, but they should be.
Tampa Bay has upgraded at a number of positions (something about a new quarterback comes to mind), but the ground game remains a question mark. Ronald Jones II hasn't lit the world on fire in two seasons, and Ke'Shawn Vaughn's next carry in the pros will be his first.
Freeman's best days may well be behind him, but he remains a versatile player who can do a little of everything, whether it be gain yardage between the tackles, catch the ball out of the backfield or pass-protect.
That last one should appeal in a big way to Tom Brady.
As ESPN reported, when defensive tackle Damon Harrison heard he was traded to the Detroit Lions in October 2018, it was—let's go with unwelcome news:
"To be completely honest with you, I didn't want to go to Detroit because of some things that I heard from some guys in the past and some guys who were there. So when I got the call that that's where I was traded, I didn't answer the phone for a couple hours. [Lions general manager] Bob Quinn was calling me and I didn't pick up the phone because I was trying to figure out a way to get out of it."
It took a while, but Harrison got his wish—after a disappointing season in which Harrison managed a career-low 49 total tackles, "Snacks" was cut loose by the Lions.
Last season's performance aside, though, Harrison has been an impact player for several years. The 6'3", 350-pounder is a throwback—in an era when smaller, faster pass-rushing tackles are the rage, he's a massive run-stuffer. Before 2019, Harrison had topped 75 tackles in three of four seasons, and he was named a first-team All Pro in 2016.
For teams in need of run-stopping power, Harrison is worth a look.
Best Fit: Cleveland Browns
Say, a team like the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns make sense for Harrison for a couple of reasons. The first is the sad state of Cleveland's run defense—the Browns fielded the third-worst run D last year, allowing 144.7 yards per game. Cleveland was also 30th in run-defense DVOA at Football Outsiders.
The second reason is simple: scratch. The Browns lead the NFL in salary-cap space at $38.2 million. That's more than enough room to bring in Harrison as a short-term fix to bolster their floundering run defense.
Logan Ryan is coming off a remarkable season. The 29-year-old was more than just a key contributor for a Tennessee Titans team that made it to the AFC Championship Game—he led them with a career-high 113 total tackles.
That's a lot of stops for a cornerback.
However, Ryan also allowed two-thirds of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and gave up five touchdown passes—iffy coverage stats for a player who had a cap hit of $10.7 million in 2019.
As for his potential landing spot? Ryan told the NFL Network's Good Morning Football (via ESPN's Rich Cimini) that speculation he could join the New York Jets makes some sense:
"The Jets, I mean, it makes a lot of sense because I'm from the area. I went to Rutgers, 20 minutes from there, so I'm familiar with the area. I'm blue-collar. That's how I grew up. That would make sense for sure, but ... I'm trying to do what's best for my family and everything like that. Obviously, there's a lot of rumors out there. I can't confirm any of it because I'm obviously still not signed. We'll see."
Best Fit: New York Jets
Was that foreshadowing a little too obvious?
The notion of Ryan's homecoming to play for the Jets makes for a nice pregame segment, but there are better reasons for the 29-year-old to continue his career with Gang Green.
For starters, the Jets need help at cornerback as badly as any team. Jets coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme favors physical corners who aren't afraid to get dirty against the run. And with about $15 million in space, the Jets have the cash to add one more free agent.
At first glance, the Carolina Panthers' release of strong safety Eric Reid was a puzzling move. Reid was a big producer for Carolina in 2019—his 130 total tackles trailed only the great Luke Kuechly on the team, and Reid's 97 solo stops paced the squad. Reid also chipped in four sacks.
But when it came to pass coverage, the picture wasn't as rosy—or even close. Opposing receivers torched Reid—he allowed over 77 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed, surrendered a staggering eight touchdowns and posted a passer rating against of 149.1—just under 10 points shy of perfect.
However, it's worth noting that just one season prior, Reid's coverage stats were much better—a 57.1 completion percentage against and two scores allowed in 737 snaps.
There's a reason the Panthers signed Reid to a three-year, $22 million extension in February 2019, and Reid remains a 28-year-old with a Pro Bowl on his resume.
Best Fit: Houston Texans
Reid just needs to land with a team that will let him do what he does best: roam around the box and make plays.
Per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Justin Reid (younger brother of Eric) has lobbied Bill O'Brien about a family reunion in Houston. Sibling affection aside, the move would make sense.
The Texans can use all the help they can get—the team was 26th in the league in pass-defense DVOA, per Football Outsiders. Reid could add quite a bit to a secondary that's essentially unchanged from last year—including playing some sub-package linebacker.