No-Brainer NFL Signings That Should Happen Right Now
Some NFL free-agent signings just make too much sense to not happen.
Look at, say, the Los Angeles Chargers paying up for former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Corey Linsley this offseason in an effort to protect Justin Herbert. Or the Kansas City Chiefs kicking off an offensive line rebuild in front of Patrick Mahomes with star guard Joe Thuney.
Similar thoughts apply when looking at the list of best free agents left on the market. Some team's needs are so obvious entering training camps that it's a wonder they haven't yet signed certain players.
Based on schematic fit, team trajectory and the status of each free agent's individual market, here's a look at the no-brainer signings that should happen as training camps begin.
RB Todd Gurley to the Los Angeles Rams
Yes, things didn't end so well between Todd Gurley and the Los Angeles Rams back in 2020.
But the Rams just lost 2020 second-round pick Cam Akers to a season-ending torn Achilles in late July, derailing a breakout-of-the-year candidate and centerpiece of the offense. That leaves the unit leaning on the unproven Darrell Henderson and 2020 undrafted free agent Xavier Jones, barring an addition.
Last year in his first stint with a new team, Gurley averaged just 3.5 yards per carry over 195 attempts, but he scored nine times and caught 25 passes. But it's worth pointing out Atlanta won just four games, heavily favored the pass and just generally...wasn't so great.
While Gurley's injury issues derailed his mega contract with the Rams last time around, he played in 15 games last year, and his workload wasn't that different from his 2019 responsibilities. The Rams will just have to get over the pride aspect of foolishly giving him a huge deal that still has $8.4 million in dead money on the books in 2021 from the last go-round.
If the Rams are serious about putting the best chips around Matthew Stafford, Gurley is the top veteran option available and could have a big impact in a rotation—and it sure doesn't hurt that he already knows the offense, which puts him at another advantage over other backs.
Edge Justin Houston to Indianapolis Colts
Elsewhere on the going home front, it's hard to imagine Justin Houston playing anywhere besides Indianapolis.
Yes, Houston spent the first eight years of his career in Kansas City, but he's been a staple of the Colts defense for two years now. Over those two seasons, he's accumulated 19 sacks with 53 pressures, right in line with his normal production.
Now 32, Houston hasn't shown many signs of slowing, and last year he did his damage on just 59 percent of the defense's snaps. That's why a would-be contender like the Pittsburgh Steelers had showed interest in him, according to NFL reporter Jason La Canfora.
For the Colts, there's no reason not to bring Houston back on a rotational basis again. First-rounder Kwity Paye is of course expected to bolster the pass rush, but a veteran who can serve as mentor and keep both guys fresh sure couldn't hurt.
OT Mitchell Schwartz to the Chicago Bears
Mitchell Schwartz was a cap casualty for a Kansas City Chiefs team that wanted to remake the offensive line in front of Patrick Mahomes.
Schwartz, now 32, is still one of the league's best right tackles if he's recovered from some of the back issues that derailed his season last year, including the Super Bowl push. He posted a 74.7 Pro Football Focus grade last year over a limited 357 snaps but was more his usual self in 2019 with an 84.0 grade, putting him in starter range, while allowing zero sacks over 1,046 snaps.
Granted, plenty of teams probably wouldn't mind adding Schwartz in some capacity. But there should be a heightened sense of need in Chicago, where protecting big draft investment Justin Fields (should he win the gig under center) is more important than anything else.
S Malik Hooker to the Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys went all-in on rebuilding a miserable defense from last season, saying goodbye to names like Aldon Smith and Sean Lee before signing several defensive free agents and using a first-round pick on linebacker Micah Parsons.
So why not add a dynamic safety to the roster?
Malik Hooker, the 15th overall pick in 2017, is still out there and just 25 years old. He's been an injury risk for the duration of his career, hence the Indianapolis Colts declining his fifth-year option. Last year, he only made it in two games.
But in 2019 over 13 appearances, Hooker posted a 69.5 PFF grade, picking off two passes on 20 targets. He's still one of the rangier safeties in the league when healthy and boasts a ton of upside he has yet to realize.
Dallas did add safeties Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse in free agency, but Hooker is an upgrade on both if healthy. Even better for Dallas, he'd come on a cheap prove-it deal, so the risk is minimal.
CB Steven Nelson to the Indianapolis Colts
Steven Nelson is arguably the best cornerback and outright free agent left on the market, which might explain ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reporting in May that around 14 teams had reached out to him after his release from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Nelson, 28, graded at a 67.1 last year at PFF, letting up 43 receptions on 76 targets. As an outside boundary starter, he's the sort of player most teams would like to have, with Pittsburgh cutting him loose to save $8.3 million in cap space.
At this stage of free agency, Nelson is quite the bargain for a team with contention hopes such as the Indianapolis Colts. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, a hot name in head-coaching searches, has worked wonders with rehab projects like Xavier Rhodes, so letting him have Nelson as a starter instead of Rock Ya-Sin (49.9 PFF grade last year) is only going to improve Indy's situation.
Granted, the Colts could see some serious competition for Nelson's services, but it's a small matter to a team with the 10th-most cap space in the league at $16.8 million.