NFL Free Agents We Can't Believe Are Still Available

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2021

NFL Free Agents We Can't Believe Are Still Available

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    It feels like most of the big free-agent dominoes in the NFL should have toppled by now.

    Yet as teams approach the third and final week of the preseason, the free-agent market still offers huge names and—more importantly—players who can provide immediate upgrades to rosters.

    These must-know names remain on the market for a variety of reasons. Some have injury concerns; others have production question marks. Some veterans presumably don't want to deal with the grind of training camp.

    Regardless of the reasoning, it wouldn't be a shock to see the best remaining players find homes while teams trim down rosters after the third preseason game. These are the players we can't believe are available, plus a best fit projection for each.

K.J. Wright, LB

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Linebacker isn't a premium position in the NFL compared to pass-rusher and cornerback, but it's surprising K.J. Wright has yet to find a home.

    The 32-year-old has been a steady presence in Seattle since 2011, missing more than three games in a season just once. He's recorded 941 total tackles, 13.5 sacks, six interceptions and 11 forced fumbles.

    Last year, Wright posted 86 total tackles, two sacks and 10 passes defended in 16 games, which earned him a 75.3 Pro Football Focus grade, firmly in the "starter" bracket of the grading process.

    Wright is past the dreaded age of 30, but the signs of slowing down aren't dramatic, and he's reliable. A contender like Green Bay could use his experience in the middle of a multiple front to help others, never mind the production he'd offer.

    Best Fit: Green Bay Packers

Mitchell Schwartz, OT

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    Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

    Mitchell Schwartz might be the best free agent left on the market.

    It's a bit strange he's unsigned given the premium placed on quality offensive line play in the NFL. But Schwartz was a casualty of the line rebuild in Kansas City after injuries derailed the team's Super Bowl LV appearance.

    If he has fully recovered from back surgery, he's only 32 years old and had a 74.7 PFF grade last season in 357 snaps. The 2019 season offers a better look at what Schwartz brings, as he had an 84.0 grade with no sacks permitted over 1,046 snaps.

    A steady rock of a player who hadn't missed time until the 2020 season, Schwartz has the upside to function as one of the NFL's best right tackles. After years of contention in Kansas City, he'll probably want to do so again, so providing an upgrade in a locale like Pittsburgh for a shaky line would make sense.

    Best Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers

Olivier Vernon, DE

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    On the topic of premium positions, it doesn't get more important than applying pressure—and Olivier Vernon tends to do that in droves.

    The 30-year-old tore his Achilles tendon in January, which likely explains why he's still on the free-agent market. But given his production, it's unusual that he hasn't received a prove-it deal.

    Vernon put up nine sacks over 14 games last year with the Cleveland Browns and has 63.5 in 127 career games. He also had 12 hurries, seven quarterback knockdowns and 28 pressures while playing 75 percent of the defensive snaps.

    While one could argue that production came playing alongside opposite Myles Garrett, Vernon has been steady in pressure creation, posting at least 6.5 sacks seven times with a high of 11.5 in 2013.

    Vernon has had attendance issues and hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2016. But he's the perfect rotational piece for a team like the Cincinnati Bengals, who have suffered multiple injuries on the pass-rush depth chart this summer.

    Best Fit: Cincinnati Bengals

Kawann Short, DL

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Remember Kawann Short?

    A staple of the Carolina Panthers' Super Bowl run in 2015, Short was mentioned alongside stars like Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald. The interior pass-rusher has 32.5 sacks over 99 games and received a five-year extension worth $80.5 million from Carolina in 2017 for good reason.

    Recent years haven't been kind to Short, as injuries have limited him to five games over the last two seasons. But ESPN's Adam Schefter reported in July that Short has been cleared after shoulder surgery and has spoken with multiple teams.

    If Short is healthy, he can be a force, even at age 32. In his last major stint of playing time in 2018, he appeared in 14 games and generated an 83.7 PFF grade with three sacks.

    While Short is a risk, he's the type of low-cost, big-upside player a contender like Buffalo could sign to make the pass rush more dynamic, especially since top-10 pick Ed Oliver is sitting on just eight sacks over two seasons.

    Best Fit: Buffalo Bills

Rick Wagner, OT

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    The best defense against a good pass rush is a quality offensive line, so it's surprising Rick Wagner remains available.

    The 31-year-old started nine games with the Green Bay Packers last year and finished with a 77.0 PFF grade over 610 snaps with one sack allowed.

    While Wagner suffered a knee injury in Week 9 and was released in February in a cap-saving measure by the Packers, the upside to function as a top-half right tackle leaguewide remains.

    Only starting nine games last year, plus missing nine games from 2016 to 2019, means Wagner will have to settle for a prove-it deal. But it also makes him an intriguing low-cost option for a team with an underperforming line such as the Miami Dolphins.

    Best Fit: Miami Dolphins

Richard Sherman, CB

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Every free agent pales in comparison to Richard Sherman, at least in name recognition.

    Sheman was one of the league's top corners for one of its most prolific defenses in Seattle. Even at age 33, recent appearances suggest he hasn't lost much of a step.

    Health is a key part of the equation, though, as he only played in five games last year with the San Francisco 49ers. But in 2019, he earned an 88.9 PFF grade, appearing in 15 games and picking off three passes.

    Complicating matters is a July 14 arrest on five misdemeanor charges.

    A five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, Sherman should land somewhere soon. If his body cooperates, he should get back to his 2019 form, which has to be appealing to the 49ers, who haven't properly addressed the position since his departure.

    Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers


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