Surprise NFL Free Agents Who Could Go Unsigned Heading into Training Camps
Noteworthy NFL free agents seem to slip through the fingers of the open market and have extended stays well into training camp more often than not these days.
The best example is Jadeveon Clowney. Last year, one of the league's better edge defenders didn't sign with the Tennessee Titans until early September. A combination of factors, including his lack of a consistent pass rush diminishing what teams were willing to pay him, played a role in the wait.
Clowney already has a home in Cleveland this year, but several big names could assume his vacated spot as guys with extended stays. Some of it could have to do with similar contractual details. Others simply won't find interest or want to sign somewhere until teams get desperate via training camp injuries. And some veterans just might not want to go through the rigors of camp at this stage of their careers.
These are the surprise free agents who could go unsigned through the summer until teams have an immediate need to fill.
OT Russell Okung
Given how problematic offensive line play is throughout the NFL, even the arrival of a new draft class didn't figure to prevent a veteran like Russell Okung from finding a home quickly.
But the 2010 sixth overall pick remains on the market, likely for a few reasons besides the fact that he's 32.
For one, Okung also appeared in just seven games last year due to a calf injury during his first season in Carolina after a trade. That came after appearing in only six games for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019. Coming off a four-year contract worth $53 million, Okung might be expecting more than teams are willing to give him considering his age and injury history.
By the time Okung does land somewhere, that team could end up getting a steal if he can stay healthy. Over those seven games last year, he posted a Pro Football Focus grade of 73.0, a continuation of his solid play when he's on the field.
LB K.J. Wright
Traditional linebackers can have extended waits these days as teams search out those who bring pass-rushing pressure first, not inside linebackers who could be largely restricted to running situations.
Still, it's a little surprising to see K.J. Wright on the market.
Wright, a success story of a fourth-round pick from the 2011 draft, has been a heavyweight at his position for a long time. Despite heading into his age-32 season, he was still a force last year in Seattle, tallying 86 total tackles, two sacks, 10 passes defensed and one interception. The performance earned him a 75.3 PFF grade.
While he's not a sheer pass-rusher, Wright was on the field for 86 percent of his defense's snaps last year, and he's only missed serious time once since entering the league. Since he hasn't shown many signs of slowing down, Wright could end up being one of the steals of free agency once he signs.
OT Mitchell Schwartz
Mitchell Schwartz was part of the the Kansas City Chiefs' cap-saving roster purge along the offensive line this offseason.
That wasn't too much of a shocker given the line's collapse in the Super Bowl and the fact that the Chiefs front office went on to add big names like Orlando Brown Jr. and Joe Thuney.
But Schwartz still has plenty to offer teams in need, should he decide to hold off on a speculated retirement. Said speculation stems from the fact he's heading into his age-32 season and appeared in just six games last year due to a back injury that required offseason surgery.
Those factors could make teams hesitant to sign Schwartz. But he was strong last year in a small sample size, and for a bigger one, look no further than 2019. That season, the veteran posted a super 84.0 PFF grade with no sacks allowed over 1,046 snaps.
That sort of line help doesn't come around often at tackle these days, so it's shocking to see Schwartz still out there, regardless of surrounding factors.
Edge Justin Houston
Sustained production despite age can make for an extended market stay for notable free agents.
Edge-rusher Justin Houston appears to be the best example this year. Now 32, he played in 16 games last year with Indianapolis and posted eight sacks, bringing his career tally to 97.5 since 2011.
Even more impressive, that was Houston's fourth season in a row with at least eight sacks. Were it not for an injury-riddled 2016, he'd have 7.5 or more in every season of his career after his rookie year, including a league-leading 22 in 2014.
Keep in mind that his eight sacks last year came while playing just 59 percent of his defense's snaps, so there hasn't been a major sign that he's slowing down despite his age.
Able to provide a massive boon to a pass rush on a rotational basis, Houston feels like one of those free agents who latches on with a contender after a notable camp injury and goes on to have another strong season.
CB Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman still sitting on the free-agent market could make plenty of sense when examining the surrounding circumstances.
Sherman is 33 years old and played just five games last year due to nagging injuries. He plays a premium spot, and combined with his reputation and continued performance, he will be a pretty expensive add for a team.
After all, Sherman's five games last year were strong, but 2019 was even better. He allowed 27 catches on 51 targets and picked off three passes en route to an 88.9 PFF grade.
That's elite play if Sherman can stay healthy, especially if he lands in a friendly scheme like back with San Francisco or Seattle, or even following Robert Saleh to the New York Jets.
"You turn 33, and then it's like, 'We'll wait until we get a young pup; and if we can't get a young pup, we'll take an old fool,'" Sherman continued. "So that's where we're sitting."
Indeed, and since there hasn't been any major post-draft buzz either, it might take a major roster need emerging somewhere in the NFL to get him the deal and fit he wants anytime soon.