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The 16 Best NFL Free Agents Still on the Market

There are no stars left, but there are plenty of players who could help the right team

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

DeAngelo Williams’s much-anticipated pro wrestling career lasted just one match. That means the former Panthers and Steelers running back has rejoined the long list of NFL veterans still looking for a team to play for in 2017, and he’s near the top of a shorter sublist of those guys who are actually worth signing.

None of these remaining free agents are bound to be stars, most won’t even be starters, and many will have to wait for teams to suffer training camp or preseason injuries before they’ll receive much interest. But there are still a few players out there good enough to play an important role on an NFL squad this year. Starting with Williams, here are a few, along with the clubs that could be good fits.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

RB DeAngelo Williams

Williams put in a excellent relief performance for the Steelers the first three weeks of last season (66 rushes for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and 14 receptions for 89 yards and a score), but he dropped off the radar and was rarely used after Le’Veon Bell came off the suspension list in Week 4. Still, the 34-year-old back is one year removed from a 200-carry, 907-yard performance for Pittsburgh — during which he finished tied for fifth in the league in total touchdowns (11) and 11th in yards from scrimmage (1,274, third most of his career). He’s shown that he’s still a patient and physical runner with plenty of burst that, in the right system, could function as a high-quality and experienced backup who can also contribute as a receiver.

Best fits: It’d make the most sense for Williams to stick with the Steelers, but if Pittsburgh is looking to go another direction, other teams that run heavy doses of power like the Giants, Bills, or Texans could accentuate his skill set.

CB Darrelle Revis

The four-time All-Pro’s fall from grace in 2016 was swift and brutal, but while it’s undeniable that Revis was awful during the first month and a half of the season, he rebounded somewhat over the Jets’ final 10 games. Over that stretch, he was the 24th-ranked cornerback by Pro Football Focus and allowed just a 58.7 percent catch rate — a decent performance, especially compared to his 99th ranking and 77.8 catch rate allowed over the first six games. A zone-coverage-based team looking to add an experienced cornerback to its roster could still do much worse than Revis. But the problem is that someone’s going to have to be very motivated to entice him to play: Revis can earn $6 million from the Jets this year by simply sitting on his couch, and because that contract contains off-setting language, the only way he’s going to make more than that is if some team is willing to go above that figure.

Best fits: After losing nearly every member of their starting secondary from last year in free agency, the Cowboys could end up taking a look at the 31-year-old. The Bills have plenty of need at the cornerback spot, too, after losing Stephon Gilmore in free agency, and the Steelers could use an infusion of veteran knowledge to their young secondary group. All three run plenty of zone looks that might better fit Revis’s abilities at this point in his career.

WR Anquan Boldin

Boldin just never seems to slow down. In truth, he was never really very fast anyway, and the 36-year-old overcame his speed constraints again in 2016 to reel in 67 passes for the Lions, including eight touchdowns, which tied him for ninth in the NFL. Boldin isn’t a deep threat, but he’s dangerous as the field condenses — he led the Lions in red zone targets (23), per Warren Sharp’s Football Preview, including a team-high five targets inside the 5-yard line. He’s a tricky route runner who knows how to set cornerbacks up with head fakes and crossover steps, and he’s among the best at using his body to fend off defensive backs.

Best fits: He clearly still has a place with the Lions, developing a solid rapport with Matt Stafford as his security blanket underneath last season. The Bills and Chiefs still need more reliable pass-catching weapons over the middle of the field, and if Boldin is desperate to play, the Jets need someone to catch touchdowns out of the slot after ditching Eric Decker as a cap casualty.

LB DeAndre Levy

Levy was one of the better inside linebackers from 2011 to 2014, and earned All-Pro honors in his last full season (2014), racking up 151 tackles (second in the NFL), 2.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. But hip and knee injuries have limited his time on the field to just six games in the past two years, and Levy most recently had a second knee surgery in April. But if he can get healthy and back to anywhere near full speed (which he admits he never was last year), he could be a very solid veteran addition for a team looking to bolster its linebacker corps.

Best fits: Even after drafting Jarrad Davis in the first round, the Lions could still be the best option for Levy, who would make sense in a rotational or backup role there and could provide veteran mentorship to the rookie. Outside Detroit, linebacker is the Raiders’ most glaring need, and the Dolphins, Colts, and Giants could all use depth and experience upgrades in the middle of their defensive front sevens.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

DL Jared Odrick

The Jags released Odrick in February, just two years into the versatile defensive lineman’s five-year, $42.5 million contract. The 29-year-old missed all but six games last year due to various shoulder and elbow injuries, but in two years in Jacksonville, Odrick registered 6.5 sacks and 41 tackles, including a team-high 5.5 sacks in 2015. Odrick has the experience, length, athleticism, and size to play just about any position on a defensive line in both 4–3 and 3–4 schemes, a level of versatility that could land him atop a lot of teams’ lists should they suffer any injuries up front.

Best fits: With Gus Bradley now running the defense for the Chargers, there’s familiarity there between coach and player. The Redskins, Cowboys, and Cardinals could also use the versatility that Odrick brings on their defensive lines.

DE Dwight Freeney

There’s no such thing as having too many pass rushers in the NFL, and even at 37 years old, Freeney can still get after the quarterback. He registered 26.5 pressures per Football Outsiders (tied for 34th among all edge rushers last season), including three sacks and 10 quarterback hits as a rotational pass rusher. He was most dangerous late in games and in the playoffs, as Freeney was one of the league’s most efficient pass rushers in last year’s postseason. He’s still got a quick first step, and opposing tackles still fear his patented spin move.

Best fits: When he got home from hanging out with Jordan Spieth, Russell Wilson, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, and Freddy Freakin’ Couples in Cabo, Freeney told the Falcons he wants to play again in 2017 — and pairing him up with Dan Quinn for another round is the most logical option. If Atlanta balks, though, 4–3 teams like the Seahawks, Jaguars, Saints, and Lions could all benefit from another solid pass rusher off the edge.

OT Ryan Clady

The Jets declined to pick up Clady’s team option in February, rendering the four-time Pro Bowl left tackle a free agent. Formerly one of the best in the game, Clady’s been a shell of his former self over the past four years as he’s suffered from foot, knee, and shoulder injuries, missing 37 games along the way. He’s an injury flier at this point in his career — a top-shelf talent when healthy, but a player whom teams cannot count on as a starter because he can’t consistently stay on the field.

Best fits: Though clearly an injury risk, the 30-year-old Clady has a floor as a quality backup at either tackle position for teams like the Bengals, Colts, or Seahawks, all of whom are shallow at those spots. The Lions, who just lost left tackle Taylor Decker to a labrum injury, and the Saints, who lost left tackle Terron to, oddly, the exact same injury, were both left scrambling to fill those voids and would also make plenty of sense.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

C Nick Mangold

The Jets dropped their seven-time Pro Bowl center this offseason, too, and the 12-year vet — who missed eight games last year with an ankle injury — has yet to find a new home. At 33 years old, Mangold isn’t going to pancake many defensive linemen these days, but he’s proficient as a pass blocker and hasn’t allowed a sack in his past 33 games.

Best fits: With the status of Max Unger’s injured foot up in the air, the Saints could use some help at the center position. The competition for the Ravens’ starting job remains open, making Baltimore a logical fit. The Chargers could use some insurance in the middle, too; right now, Spencer Pulley — heading into his second season with zero career starts and just 44 game snaps at that spot — is slated as the starter, but throwing Mangold out there next to right guard and first-round pick Forrest Lamp could offer the incoming rookie some much-needed veteran experience to lean on.

WR Vincent Jackson

Jackson carried a career average of 17.0 yards per reception into last season, but, in limited action, averaged just 11.5 yards per catch in 2016 — meaning we should probably just assume that the 34-year-old’s ability as a game-changer deep down the field is all but gone. Still, he’s a savvy route runner, has never been afraid to go up in traffic, and has always been strong at the catch point, so a team looking to find a chains-mover over the middle or a red zone threat could deploy Jackson out of the slot, a similar late-career move to the inside that’s proved beneficial for guys like Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jordy Nelson.

Best fits: The Saints have a proven track record with using a big slot receiver (read: Marques Colston), and Jackson might make some sense in a Sean Payton–Drew Brees offense. The Chiefs, Jets, and Bills could also upgrade the depth and diversify their targets over the middle of the field by signing Jackson.

OL Austin Pasztor

The Browns let Pasztor walk in free agency after spending big bucks to sign Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter, but it’s surprising that no other team has picked up the 26-year-old offensive lineman yet. With 43 starts under his belt, Pasztor can play tackle or guard (he started 15 games at right tackle last year and one at guard), and at worst could be a valuable swing lineman for a number of zone-blocking teams.

Best fits: The Seahawks aren’t set anywhere on their line. Cincinnati could use more depth at right tackle, even if Jake Fisher makes a big jump and locks down the job this season. The Ravens lack depth there as well, and could use some additional insurance at right guard with Marshal Yanda coming off of shoulder surgery.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

LB Perry Riley

The Raiders signed Riley in Week 5 last season, and the 29-year-old veteran racked up 48 tackles, a pass defensed, and two forced fumbles in 11 games, grading out tied for 15th among all linebackers per Pro Football Focus. The solid coverage ’backer did plenty to improve Oakland’s defense last year, but remains unsigned.

Best fits: It’s a bit of a mystery as to why the Raiders have not re-signed Riley (fellow linebacker and high school teammate Bruce Irvin has mounted a spirited campaign for it to happen), as he’s a clear fit and they lack depth at the spot. But assuming Oakland moves on, the Jets, Broncos, and Chiefs could all upgrade depth in the middle of their defenses by signing the eighth-year pro.

DB Leon Hall

At 32, Hall is no spring chicken, but in an NFL where nickel and dime looks are commonplace and matchups are key, a versatile defensive back in Hall’s mold has plenty of value. He was one of the least-targeted cornerbacks in the NFL last year on a per-snap basis, per Pro Football Focus, and had an interception, a sack, and a forced fumble when he took over at free safety for an injured Nat Berhe over the Giants’ last five games.

Best fits: Even after signing Quintin Demps in free agency, the Bears could use some depth at safety, and Hall could feature in Chicago as a nickel corner as well. The Cardinals, who showed interest in Hall last year, have holes to fill after losing safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger in free agency. And the Bills, who lost Gilmore and safeties Corey Graham and Aaron Williams to free agency or release, could bolster their free-agency acquisitions of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde with another playmaker in Hall.

QB Colin Kaepernick

The reasons Kaepernick is still a free agent have been widely debated over the past few months, but regardless of where you land on that argument, it’s at least clear that he’s the most talented free-agent quarterback still out there. He’s experienced, mobile, and perhaps most important on the backup quarterback checklist, good at taking care of the football.

Best fits: The Seahawks (who chose instead to sign Austin Davis after having the two quarterbacks to their headquarters for a visit) remain the best fit for Kaepernick, with an offense that’s based on limiting turnovers, is heavy on read-option run looks, and likes to get the quarterback out of the pocket to throw downfield. But Kaepernick backing up Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo could make a lot of sense, and it’d be fun to see him behind Dak Prescott in Dallas.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

TE Gary Barnidge

Barnidge came from out of nowhere in 2015 as a 30-year-old journeyman to catch 79 passes for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns for the Browns — from a combination of Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, and Austin Davis at quarterback. He fell back to earth last season, registering 55 catches for 612 yards and two scores, but even with that drop-off, the past two years proved that he can produce when playing in a dysfunctional offense with a revolving door at quarterback. For a team looking for a true “Y” tight end, who’s capable of blocking in-line or running routes downfield to catch passes (a relative rarity these days), Barnidge could be a quality late-offseason pickup.

Best fits: After trading away Dwayne Allen, the Colts have an opening alongside Jack Doyle in their two-tight-end sets, and the Cowboys could be a great fit for the versatile veteran as a backup and insurance policy to Jason Witten. The Ravens are another option, down two tight ends this offseason after cutting Dennis Pitta (likely due to his hip injury) and losing Darren Waller (to a year-long substance-abuse suspension), and Barnidge might get a lot of targets in Kyle Shanahan’s tight-end-heavy passing game in San Francisco.

DL Jason Jones

Jones acquitted himself well for the Dolphins last year, registering 36 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 11.5 pressures, two pass deflections, and a blocked extra point in 14 games (including five starts). But when he was told he would be inactive for Miami’s wild-card playoff game against the Steelers, the nine-year veteran lineman requested a release (hoping to join another playoff squad), which was granted. Except no one picked Jones up, and he has yet to find a new team. Like Odrick, Jones could be a versatile depth addition on a number of defensive lines, and at 6-foot-5 and 278 pounds, he’s long and athletic, and when he’s playing with maximum effort he can be a disruptor up front.

Best fits: After losing Calais Campbell in free agency, the Cardinals could use some depth up front, and the Raiders, Giants, and Saints could all deploy a guy like Jones on both the outside and the interior.

S Corey Graham

The 31-year-old safety started every game over the past two years for Buffalo’s defense, racking up a combined 214 tackles, two sacks, 13 passes defensed, and three interceptions. The 11-year veteran missed too many tackles last year and his range isn’t what it used to be, but Graham did finish the year ranked 37th among safeties per Pro Football Focus.

Best fits: After losing Bradley McDougald in free agency, the Buccaneers could be an option. The Steelers could still bolster their depth at the safety spot by signing the veteran coverage man, as could the Titans, Broncos, and Redskins.