Ranking the Top 10 NFL Free Agents Left on the Market

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2021

Ranking the Top 10 NFL Free Agents Left on the Market

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The second week of NFL free agency is a time for bargains. 

    Housing the third wave of players, that second week still boasts some major names that either have soft markets or are simply taking their time to pick out a team. Whatever the circumstances, the market presents a serious path toward improvement for contender and pretender alike. 

    The best remaining free agents have a strong mix of production and remaining upside and should represent affordable contracts for the buying teams. Positional value plays a smaller role than it normally would in the rankings with pools of must-have players so much thinner a week into the market. 

    These are the 10 best players left in free agency.

10. Melvin Ingram, Edge

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    Justin Edmonds/Associated Press

    Melvin Ingram is one of the riskier players left on the market. 

    Turning 32 this offseason, Ingram had two different trips to the injured reserve list in 2020, limiting him to just seven games. He had zero sacks over that span, yet he still posted a solid all-around Pro Football Focus grade at 72.3

    Take out last year's injury-riddled mess, and the conversation shifts. Ingram has seven or more sacks in every season dating back to 2015, and his seven in 2019, for example, came while playing 69 percent of the Los Angeles Chargers' defensive snaps.

    If Ingram checks out medically, he could quietly be one of the most effective pass-rushers from this year's free-agent class after spending every season since 2012 with the Chargers. 

9. K.J. Wright, LB

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Traditional linebackers aren't valued like they once were, at least compared to guys who generate pressure. 

    Those circumstances should make K.J. Wright a steal in free agency for a team willing to meet his contractual demands. 

    Wright will be 32 this summer, but he hasn't shown many signs of slowing down. Last season, he posted 65 solo tackles, one interception, a forced fumble and two sacks with a 75.3 PFF grade.

    Other than being productive and playing at a high level, Wright has also been consistent, only missing significant time once since entering the league in 2011. He's the sort of signing that will leave other teams regretting not going after him. 

8. Malcolm Butler, CB

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Malcolm Butler was an obvious name for the free-agent market, but he was always going to have an extended wait because of the depth available at his position. 

    Released by Tennessee due to cap reasons, Butler presents an attractive low-risk option for the buying team. 

    Last year with the Titans, he was active against the run again via 89 solo tackles, as well as solid in pass coverage with four interceptions—hence the 71.6 PFF grade.

    Still only 31 years old, Butler will likely land a low-cost deal this time around and have little problem meeting expectations. 

7. Carlos Dunlap, Edge

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Quietly one of the more productive edge-rushers of his generation with 87.5 sacks since 2010, Carlos Dunlap had been lost in the shuffle over the last two years during a staff and scheme change in Cincinnati. 

    That changed at last year's trade deadline, when Seattle made an offer for him and immediately got five sacks over eight games and 18 pressures in an immensely better scheme fit. 

    Seattle did end up cutting Dunlap for cap reasons after using him as a rental while trying to contend, but the lesson was clear: Dunlap, now 32, still has plenty to offer in the right situation. 

    That situation will let him put his hand in the dirt on the edge and collapse pockets. Cincinnati wanted to go a different direction for whatever reason, but the right fit will see him likely outplay whatever short-term deal he gets. 

6. Antonio Brown, WR

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    Even a few years removed from his stint in Pittsburgh, it's a little weird to think Antonio Brown is just another guy on the free-agent market at a deep position. 

    But given the flashes he showed last year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brown can be much more than just a depth piece on his next contract. 

    While he's going on 33 years old, Brown was quietly productive in eight games with Tampa Bay, catching 45 of his 62 targets for 483 yards and four scores, even earning an 85.8 PFF grade. Don't forget two postseason touchdowns and another 81 yards through the air. 

    Brown isn't as explosive as he used to be, nor is he a likely No. 1 anymore. But there's plenty left in the tank for a team willing to bring him aboard and fit him into the offense. 

5. T.Y. Hilton, WR

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    It was easy to overlook T.Y. Hilton because it seemed almost impossible the Indianapolis Colts would let him get away after he's served as a core piece of their offense since 2012. 

    But Hilton remains on the market, and at this stage of free agency, the 31-year-old veteran should classify as a steal. 

    Hilton had an interesting 2020 season, seemingly never getting completely on the same page with Philip Rivers in the QB's first and only season in Indy. Hilton caught just 56 of his 93 targets but turned it into 762 yards and five scores, averaging 13.6 yards per catch. 

    For his career, Hilton still averages 15.4 yards per catch, a number that has only dipped in recent years due to a turbulent quarterback situation and missing six games in 2019. There's little reason to believe he can't get back to bigger production with better surroundings. 

4. Jadeveon Clowney, Edge

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Jadeveon Clowney remains one of the better outright defenders in the NFL, yet a longer stay on the free-agent market for the second season in a row wouldn't be much of a shock. 

    Clowney landed in Tennessee last year and could only make it into eight games. He posted zero sacks, which was a red flag and one of the main reasons he isn't getting the mega deal he wants. He only has 32 sacks over 83 games and has topped six in a season just twice. 

    The No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 draft will still be a dramatic upgrade for the team that snags him, though, thanks to his strong presence against the run and even his serviceable coverage skills. He posted a 74.9 PFF grade last season, and his play is usually more in line with his 87.3 from 2019. 

    Still just 28 years old, Clowney might have to settle for another prove-it deal in the hopes of putting up big pressure numbers.

3. Justin Houston, Edge

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Justin Houston was never going to be one of the first edge-rushers off the board in a very deep free-agent class. 

    But he will surely end up being one of the best values. 

    Houston, now 32, spent the last two seasons in Indianapolis doing what he does best: generating pressure. He's not the same player who put up 22 sacks in 2014, but he's posted 19 sacks over those two seasons with the Colts. He also added 53 pressures while playing no more than 65 percent of the snaps in either season. 

    Still a superb rotational pass-rusher, Houston hasn't flashed many signs of slowing down and has at least 7.5 sacks in every season dating back to 2012, minus an injury-riddled 2016 campaign. 

2. Mitchell Schwartz, OT

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    Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs cut Mitchell Schwartz alongside Eric Fisher just before the team signed Joe Thuney to a five-year, $80 million contract in an effort to address the offensive line in front of Patrick Mahomes. 

    Schwartz, who turns 32 in June, still has plenty to offer teams if he wants to keep playing after offseason back surgery

    Still one of the better right tackles in football, Schwartz posted a 74.7 PFF grade last year with just one penalty and two sacks allowed over 357 snaps. And don't let the sample size mislead you—in 2019, he had an 84.0 grade with five penalties and zero sacks over 1,046 snaps. 

    Should Schwartz keep playing, he's a notable upgrade for more than half of the teams in the league. 

1. Richard Sherman, CB

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    Even though he's about to turn 33 years old, it's clear Richard Sherman still has plenty to offer a team in need of a starting cornerback. 

    A season ago, Sherman appeared in just five games due to injuries, yet he still picked off a pass on just 14 targets and finished with a 67.7 grade. 

    Provided he's back to 100 percent, a buying team wouldn't be foolish to expect something more in line with Sherman's 2019 numbers. That season, he played in 15 games, allowing just 27 catches on 51 targets with three interceptions, good for an 88.9 PFF grade. 

    While the contract numbers don't figure to be massive at this stage of his career, the majority of teams could do much worse when it comes to a second or borderline No. 1 corner.