NFL Free Agents Still on the Market Who Can Spark 2020 Playoff Runs

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2020

NFL Free Agents Still on the Market Who Can Spark 2020 Playoff Runs

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    With only seven weeks left in the 2020 NFL regular season, we're approaching win-or-go-home time for several franchises. While the expanded playoff format will allow two additional wild-card teams into the playoffs this season, it's still going to be a tight race.

    Of the league's 32 teams, 15 of them have won six or more games through Week 10. A few very good squads are likely to miss the postseason this year.

    For some of them, one key addition might make the difference between going home and getting in. Since the trade deadline has already passed, they'll have to look to the free-agent market to find their reinforcements.

    In a year of expanded practice squads and injured reserve lists, the in-season free-agent market isn't quite as enticing as it has been in years past, but some potentially solid contributors are still available. We'll examine the top remaining free agents here—those who have proven production, are healthy enough to contribute and fit the needs of at least one potential playoff team.

CB Pierre Desir

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The last time we saw cornerback Pierre Desir, he was giving up a 31-yard reception to New England Patriots wideout Damiere Byrd. The New York Jets benched him following that play and then released him earlier this week.

    Desir hasn't been very reliable this season. He's allowed an opposing quarterback rating of 110.3 and surrendered four touchdowns. However, he is healthy, has 44 games of starting experience and a knack for finding the football. In nine games this season, he had eight passes defended, three interceptions, a forced fumble and a pick-six.

    While Desir clearly isn't a lockdown defender, he could be a tremendous asset for a team lacking in proven cornerback depth like the Minnesota Vikings or lacking talent in the secondary like the Seattle Seahawks.

    The Vikings revamped their secondary in the offseason, parting with key contributors like Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Meanwhile, the Seahawks rank dead last in pass defense. Desir could provide a notable boost to the depth of either squad.

    Best Fits: Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks

S Earl Thomas

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Does former All-Pro safety Earl Thomas carry baggage? Yes, he does. The Baltimore Ravens released him in the offseason after he got into a physical altercation with teammate Chuck Clark, and he reportedly wasn't popular among his fellow players.

    "He had a pattern of being late, and in a recent practice, he made multiple assignment errors, causing defensive teammates to confront him about his preparedness," Peter King of NBC Sports wrote.

    As a short-term rental for a stretch run, though, Thomas could be an asset. He isn't the game-changer that he once was, but he can still be productive in spurts. He was named to the Pro Bowl just last season after he racked up 49 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions with the Ravens.

    Thomas could make sense for the New Orleans Saints, who lack reliable safety depth behind Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams. He could also be a fit for the Cleveland Browns, whose safety plans were thwarted when rookie Grant Delpit suffered a torn Achilles in August.

    Current Browns free safety Andrew Sendejo has allowed an opposing passer rating of 157.9 and has surrendered five touchdowns. It's hard to imagine that Thomas wouldn't be an improvement.

    Best Fits: New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns

Edge Cameron Wake

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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Veteran pass-rusher Cameron Wake has been on the free-agent market since the Tennessee Titans released him back in March. While the 38-year-old is in the twilight of his career, he was still effective as a pressure man.

    In nine games last season, Wake produced 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 13 quarterback pressures.

    A return to Tennessee would make a lot of sense, as the Titans haven't exactly thrived without Wake. They've gotten little from Jadeveon Clowney and have already parted ways with offseason addition Vic Beasley Jr.

    As a team, the Titans have only 11 sacks through nine games.

    Wake would also make sense for the Seahawks, whose secondary struggles have been exacerbated by the lack of a consistent pass rush.

    The Seahawks have been better at getting to the quarterback than Tennessee—they have 22 sacks in nine games—but a bit of added pressure couldn't hurt their 32nd-ranked pass defense.

    Best Fits: Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks

Edge Clay Matthews

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    If the Seahawks and Titans aren't interested in adding the 38-year-old Wake, perhaps they could show some interest in veteran pass-rusher Clay Matthews instead. 

    The Los Angeles Rams released Matthews in March, but it was likely a cap-saving move and not a performance-based decision. In 13 games with the Rams last season, he produced 8.0 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 28 quarterback pressures.

    Matthews' familiarity with the NFC West and its pass protectors could bring added value to a team like the Seahawks or the Arizona Cardinals.

    Like Seattle, Arizona has 22 sacks on the season. However, the Cardinals have also lost star pass-rusher Chandler Jones for the season, and they recently placed defensive tackle Corey Peters on injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury. Peters had 2.0 sacks on the season.

    Matthews' agent released a statement in early September stating that the sack artist is open to playing in the "right opportunity." Any team in need of pass-rushing help should get on the phone with his agent immediately.

    Best Fits: Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals

RB Isaiah Crowell

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Running back Isaiah Crowell has been out of football since he suffered a torn Achilles and got released by the Las Vegas Raiders last offseason. However, Seattle did kick the tires on him this offseason, and one would assume that the 27-year-old could still help a running-back-needy team.

    Given the injuries Seattle has experienced at running back this season, another look at Crowell could make sense. Crowell might be an even better fit for the Buffalo Bills, who have gotten mixed results from their tandem of Zack Moss and Devin Singletary.

    A physical inside runner who averaged 4.8 yards per carry with the New York Jets in 2018, Crowell could also be a sneaky-good addition for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Pittsburgh remains undefeated and has a serviceable backfield duo in James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. However, the Steelers aren't necessarily content with their 24th-ranked rushing attack.

    "It is below the line as we sit here today," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said, per Joe Rutter of TribLive.com.

    Crowell is the sort of hard-hitting back who could help Pittsburgh close out games and remain undefeated in December.

    Best Fits: Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers

RB Jordan Howard

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins released running back Jordan Howard earlier this week in what was deemed a mutual decision.

    "A lot of respect for him and respect for the way he worked. No ill will, just thought it was best for both parties," Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said, per ESPN's Cameron Wolfe.

    While Howard did score four rushing touchdowns with the Dolphins, he was largely ineffective as a runner. He averaged only 1.2 yards per carry and was never a big part of the offensive game plan.

    However, that doesn't mean he couldn't be effective in a different situation. Last season with the Philadelphia Eagles, Howard amassed 525 rushing yards in 10 games and averaged a solid 4.4 yards per carry.

    Like Crowell, Howard could help bolster the Bills' 29th-ranked rushing attack. Though he's spent less than a year in the AFC East, he has seen the New England Patriots once this season and undoubtedly has some knowledge of the Dolphins defense.

    Buffalo is slated to end the year at New England and against Miami.

    Howard could also be a quality short-yardage and goal-line back for the Seahawks, who have gotten only eight rushing touchdowns from their running backs this season.

    Best Fits: Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks

WR Taylor Gabriel

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears released wideout Taylor Gabriel in a cap-saving move this offseason, and the speedster out of Abilene Christian remains unsigned. While the 29-year-old wasn't especially productive last season—he had 353 yards and four scores—his speed is hard to find.

    According to former teammate Anthony Miller, Gabriel was clocked at 24 miles per hour in a Bears practice in 2018.

    Gabriel's ability to turn short passes into big gains would benefit the Patriots, who lack premier pass-catchers and who are currently without slot star Julian Edelman. A return to the Browns—the team that gave Gabriel his first shot in the NFL—would also make a lot of sense.

    While the Browns utilize a run-heavy offense, they lost their primary deep threat in Odell Beckham Jr. when he suffered a torn ACL.

    While he would have a limited window to learn either offense, Gabriel's speed could provide a needed element to the Browns or Patriots passing game. Even as a decoy on the occasional go route, he could help open things up on underneath routes for other receivers and back off defenses to aid the running game. On bubble screens and quick slants, he could turn short gains into big ones.

    Best Fits: New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns

             

    Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.