Top Free Agents Who Can Help Desperate NFL Teams

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2020

Top Free Agents Who Can Help Desperate NFL Teams

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    As expected, NFL free agency isn't slowing down as the calendar turns to Week 3. 

    With injuries piling up and expanded practice squads a part of this year's proceedings, notable names such as Blake Bortles, Ezekiel Ansah and Devonta Freeman have recently joined teams desperate to fill holes at their respective positions.

    What's left is a list of recognizable names with proven production and projectable impacts. 

    Here's a list of the top names still on the open market matched with suitors based on team need and fit. 

TE Delanie Walker

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Delanie Walker seems like one of those veterans a contender grabs late in the season and improves its odds of a playoff run, though circumstances might dictate an earlier return. 

    Walker, 36, has played in just eight games over the last two seasons. But the tight end is unquestionably productive and has a reputation as a leader. In his last healthy season, 2017, he caught 74 passes for 807 yards and three scores. Before that, he had scored six or more times in three of the prior four seasons. 

    Joining a team now wouldn't be the biggest ordeal for a veteran like Walker, who could at least deploy as a situational weapon when it's time to move the chains or score. Load management is a must, given his injury history (ankle setbacks in 2018 and 2019), but it seems inevitable he'll find a home.

    With teams such as San Francisco, Arizona and Buffalo dealing with injuries at the position, Walker could be back with a team soon. 

    Possible suitors: San Francisco, Arizona 

DL Damon Harrison

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Damon Harrison will keep sitting near the top of available free-agents lists until a team snags him.

    "Snacks" is 31 years old and had a down season with a bad Detroit Lions team last year, which might partially explain why he's still sitting on the open market (add an influx of talent via the draft and the other usual factors). 

    But a team struggling with injuries or performance might hope Snacks can rediscover his 2018 form in a new locale. That year, Harrison received a 92.0 grade from Pro Football Focus, an impressive performance during stints with the Lions and Giants. 

    Harrison is on the short list of guys who might get a job soon as teams such as San Francisco (Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas) and Denver (DeMarcus Walker, Von Miller, Dre'Mont Jones) miss key parts of their front seven for extended stretches. He'll also have a meeting with the Seattle Seahawks, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter

    Possible suitors: San Francisco, Denver

S Earl Thomas

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Earl Thomas might be the biggest name left on the market. 

    The safety had a tumultuous departure from the Baltimore Ravens over the summer, and it seems like that's playing a role in his inability to find a new team. 

    But from an on-field standpoint, Thomas has plenty to offer. He's still just 31 years old and appeared in 15 games last year, rebounding from his injury-shortened 2018 with 49 total tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and four passes defensed. 

    Is Thomas the same player who garnered a PFF grade of 90.2 in 2017? Maybe not, but a would-be contender like Indianapolis that just placed Malik Hooker on injured reserve with a torn Achilles might want to find out if he can rediscover some of his old form. 

    Possible suitors: Indianapolis, Las Vegas

S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    If not Thomas, perhaps Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will be the next safety to put ink to paper. 

    Clinton-Dix was a surprise cut by the Dallas Cowboys at the start of September after he signed a contract with more than $2 million in guarantees earlier in the offseason.

    While things have been quiet for him since, the 27-year-old safety tallied 78 total tackles, two interceptions and five passes defensed in 16 games with the Chicago Bears last year for a PFF grade of 74.2

    That's starter material from the 2014 first-round pick, so the aforementioned teams dealing with injury, if not contenders, might make the most sense for Clinton-Dix. 

    Possible suitors: Indianapolis, Las Vegas

EDGE Cameron Wake

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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Cameron Wake might have to wait a while to sign—but his impact upon arrival will be sudden and, in a word, big. 

    Wake, 38, was a notable part of the Tennessee Titans' push to the AFC Championship Game last year on a situational basis. He played just 18 percent of the team's defensive snaps over nine regular-season games yet put up 2.5 sacks, five hurries and 13 pressures, with a PFF grade of 83.5.

    In 2018, he played 14 games and 48 percent of the defensive snaps in Miami, posting six sacks, 19 hurries and 33 pressures on an 81.7 PFF grade. 

    Written another way, Wake could be a superb rotational presence for a contender looking for depth. A reunion with Tennessee wouldn't be outlandish, especially after Vic Beasley Jr. (knee) was inactive for Week 2. 

    Possible suitors: San Francisco, Tennessee

S Damarious Randall

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Another surprise cut near the start of the season, Damarious Randall didn't get to officially take the field with the Las Vegas Raiders. 

    He could be another team's major gain. 

    Randall, 28, is a 2015 first-round pick capable of starting at safety or corner and has 14 interceptions over five seasons. 

    Last year in Cleveland, he played all over the place and only let up a 57.1 completion percentage on 42 targets, though he was charged with allowing eight touchdowns. PFF hit him with a 69.3 grade, down from 72.8 the year prior, but a change of scenery and solidified role could do the veteran some good. 

    That role could come in a place such as Seattle, which just put corner Marquise Blair on injured reserve with a knee injury, or even Miami, where Byron Jones continues to battle a groin injury.

    Possible suitors: Seattle, Miami

RB Lamar Miller

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    It's easy to forget about Lamar Miller, yet he might just be the next running back off the board. 

    And the Indianapolis Colts were sniffing around him recently for a reason. Miller missed all of last season because of a torn ACL, yet over 14 games in Houston in 2018, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry with 973 yards and five touchdowns, also catching 25 passes. 

    A versatile veteran who is still only 29 years old, Miller's got three-down capabilities. The fact that he's caught at least 25 passes in every healthy season since 2013 says it all. 

    Those Colts could still use another running back after Marlon Mack tore his Achilles. In addition, Carolina feels like a possible suitor after it put Christian McCaffrey on injured reserve because of an ankle setback, meaning Miller could boost the rotation for a month or so until he returns. 

    Possible suitors: Indianapolis, Carolina

WR Demaryius Thomas

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Have NFL fans seen the last of Demaryius Thomas

    Thomas, 32, popped up in the wasteland that is the New York Jets offense last season and put up 433 yards and a touchdown, averaging 12.0 yards per catch and 39.4 yards per game. He was better in 2018 over 15 contests with Denver and Houston, totaling 677 yards and scoring five times, making it seven seasons in a row he'd hit at least five receiving touchdowns. 

    It has been mostly quiet on the Thomas front for the former Broncos star, but The Athletic's Connor Hughes reported in July he'd had talks with the Jets. 

    Funnily enough, with Courtland Sutton out for the year with a torn ACL, Thomas might be a good fit for the Broncos again. A reunion with the Jets could also work as Breshad Perriman (ankle) and Jamison Crowder (hamstring) battle injuries that leave their week-to-week statuses in question. 

    Possible suitors: Denver, New York Jets

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