Ranking the 8 Best NFL Free Agents Still on the Market Entering September
The 2021 NFL season is nearly here. The preseason has ended, and teams had to trim rosters to 53 players by Tuesday.
While most have solidified the cores of their squads, we can expect a bit more shuffling between now and Sept. 9. With a bevy of quality free agents hitting the waiver wire and the open market on Tuesday, some last-minute additions are sure to come.
Which players might your favorite team have its eye on? Here, we'll examine the top nine available free agents and rank them based on factors like past production, upside and positional value.
8. RB Todd Gurley
Running back is arguably the easiest position to fill late in the draft or off the waiver wire. This is why Todd Gurley ranks at the bottom of our list despite being a three-time Pro Bower and only 27 years old.
It doesn't help that he has averaged fewer than four yards per carry over the past two seasons.
Still, Gurley is capable of handling a sizable workload—he logged 195 carries with the Atlanta Falcons last year—and is worth a look.
The Baltimore Ravens jump out as a terrific landing spot. They led the NFL in rushing attempts last season and recently lost second-year back J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending left ACL tear. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Ravens have had discussions with Gurley but are sticking with their current backs for the time being.
Gurley would also make sense for the Miami Dolphins. Miami does not have a workhorse running back on its roster and could reunite Gurley with former Los Angeles Rams backup Malcolm Brown.
Best Fits: Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins
7. DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix lands low on our list mostly because he didn't play in 2020. He was cut by the Dallas Cowboys just before the start of the regular season and hasn't played a meaningful game since.
Clinton-Dix signed with the San Francisco 49ers this offseason but was released Tuesday.
Still, he is only 28 years old and brings a lot of positional versatility to the table. Having played both strong and free safety in the NFL, Clinton-Dix can provide valuable depth in a secondary.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are one team that could use an experienced former Pro Bowler (2016). Jacksonville is a young, rebuilding squad that ranked 27th against the pass and 31st in total defense last season.
The Cleveland Browns could also make sense, as 2020 second-round pick Grant Delpit continues to work his way back from a ruptured Achilles and, more recently, a hamstring injury.
Best Fits: Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns
6. Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo
Players who can pressure the quarterback are always going to have value, which is why defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo makes the list despite having only 15 career starts. Over the past two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Odenigbo produced 10.5 sacks and 44 quarterback pressures.
The New York Giants picked up Odenigbo in free agency but released him as part of their final roster cuts.
A return to Minnesota could make sense, given Odenigbo's familiarity with the defensive system. He was a seventh-round selection out of Northwestern by the Vikings in 2017. While he didn't make the active roster as a rookie and was waived before the 2018 season, he returned and played 31 games for the Vikings over the last two years.
Odenigbo would also make sense for the Las Vegas Raiders, who amassed a mere 21 sacks in 2020.
Las Vegas already added Yannick Ngakoue and Solomon Thomas this offseason, along with rookie third-round pick Malcolm Koonce, to help bolster its pass rush. However, Odenigbo has shown that he can be a productive rotational edge defender and would be a smart pickup for the Raiders.
Best Fits: Minnesota Vikings, Las Vegas Raiders
5. DT Mike Daniels
Defensive tackle Mike Daniels was a standout for the Green Bay Packers for seven seasons and a Pro Bowler in 2017. Though he wasn't as impressive in stints with the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals (20 games played, 27 tackles), the 32-year-old can still be an asset along a defensive front.
Teams looking to beef up their defensive line and create more interior pressure should consider Daniels, who has 30 career sacks and 50 tackles for loss.
A return to Green Bay would make a lot of sense. It's where he did his best work, and the Packers should be looking to improve a unit that tied for 16th in yards allowed per rushing attempt last season.
The Houston Texans might also want to give Daniels a look after ranking dead last in both rushing yards allowed and yards per attempt surrendered.
Best Fits: Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans
4. C Matt Skura
Interior lineman Matt Skura, one of the most notable names to be released Tuesday, was a four-year starter for the Baltimore Ravens before landing with the Miami Dolphins this offseason. He has started at both right guard and center.
Skura started 12 games in 2020 and allowed just a single sack, according to Pro Football Focus.
Any team looking to add depth along the interior should be interested in Skura. The Texans, though, might be a perfect fit. Former Ravens passing game coordinator David Culley is now the head coach in Houston. The Texans don't have a backup guard or center listed on their depth chart.
The Falcons could also make sense as new head coach Arthur Smith looks to establish the sort of physical ground game he oversaw with the Tennessee Titans. Skura would be a fine piece of veteran insurance behind younger players like Matt Hennessy (age 23) and Chris Lindstrom (24).
Best Fits: Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons
*Update: The Giants are expected to sign Skura to their practice squad, according to ESPN's Jordan Raanan. Skura will still have the option of signing to another team's 53-man active roster.
3. OT Rick Wagner
The second of three offensive linemen to make this list, Rick Wagner deserves to be on an NFL roster. While he has never been named to a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team, he's started 96 games in his career. He started nine for the Packers last season and was responsible for no penalties and only one sack, according to Pro Football Focus.
A return to Green Bay would seem logical, as starting left tackle David Bakhtiari will begin the season on the physically unable to perform list. Bakhtiari suffered a torn ACL in December, and the team is going to take its time in bringing him back.
"We're going to do what's best for David and this football team," head coach Matt LaFleur said, per Jason Wilde for the State Journal (h/t the Murfreesboro Post).
Though primarily a right tackle, Wagner would provide seasoned depth while the Packers make do without Bakhtiari. The Chicago Bears would also make sense as they look to patch together a line that will be without rookie Teven Jenkins (back) for the immediate future.
Best Fits: Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears
2. OT Mitchell Schwartz
The Kansas City Chiefs' decision to move on from right tackle Mitchell Schwartz earlier this offseason was a bit surprising. While Schwartz missed 10 regular-season games and the playoffs with a back injury, he had never previously sat out a contest.
A first-team All-Pro in 2018, the 32-year-old should remain one of the league's most reliable right tackles if healthy. While his back surgery may give some teams pause, Schwartz recently shared a workout video suggesting that he is at least close to 100 percent.
With 134 starts on his resume, he would be a tremendous fit for virtually any team in need of help at right tackle—except for perhaps Chicago.
Schwartz openly criticized Bears head coach Matt Nagy for his handling of Chicago's quarterback competition, which could lead to an awkward situation if the team were to sign him.
A return to Kansas City to provide depth would make a lot of sense this late in the preseason, as the learning curve would be minimal. The Steelers would also be a logical landing spot. He would be a more proven option than Zach Banner, who has only two career starts.
Best Fits: Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers
1. QB Cam Newton
When the Patriots named rookie quarterback Mac Jones as their Week 1 starter, they also parted with Cam Newton. The shocking move placed a starting-caliber quarterback on the market with a little more than a week to go before the start of regular season—something that just doesn't happen in the NFL.
While Newton was far from fantastic in 2020, posting a passer rating of 82.9, a talent-starved receiving corps did him no favors. He did help the Patriots win seven games and can be a functional dual-threat signal-caller wherever he lands.
A three-time Pro Bowler and the 2015 MVP, Newton may not be what he once was, but he immediately became the best available option at the game's most important position.
A team like the Dallas Cowboys could look to Newton as a premier piece of veteran insurance. The Cowboys parted with Andy Dalton this offseason and may not have Dak Prescott (ankle/shoulder) starting at 100 percent in 2021.
"He's not fully back. He may not be back all season long," ESPN's Adam Schefter said during a preseason broadcast (h/t Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk).
Dallas recently claimed Will Grier, who has just two games of NFL experience.
While Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera recently dismissed the idea of signing Newton before the start of the season, his stance could change if the injury bug takes a bite out of the team's quarterback depth. Newton and Rivera spent nine years together with the Carolina Panthers.
Best Fits: Dallas Cowboys, Washington Football Team