The expected post–April 27 wave of NFL free-agent signings never really materialized, and the lack of big-ticket signings has left an unusual amount of starting-caliber players―including a few guys with Pro Bowl potential―still out there on the market as we approach the middle of May. Edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney is the headliner of that group that’s in limbo (I wrote about his potential landing spots here), and he’s joined by a handful of experienced veterans who could make an impact in 2020. A few may get signed in the next few weeks, and others will have to wait to see if any players suffer training camp or preseason injuries before they’ll receive much interest. But each still brings the talent to contribute in the right role. Here are nine of the best remaining unsigned free agents, along with landing spots that could make sense for each.
QB Cam Newton
Why he remains unsigned: Newton’s injury history is a major factor in his longer-than-expected free-agency period. He had surgery to repair an injury to his throwing shoulder in January 2019, then suffered a serious Lisfranc injury in the preseason, which ultimately cost him all but two games in 2019. With coronavirus-related restrictions on in-person meetings and medical checkups, teams simply went in other directions to address quarterback needs. The Chargers picked Justin Herbert in the first round; the Bears traded for Nick Foles; and the Patriots seem content (at least so far) to roll with Jarrett Stidham (or Brian Hoyer) as their starter in 2020.
What he brings to the table: The obvious caveat here is that everything depends on Newton’s health. The former MVP has said he’s fully past the shoulder injuries that plagued him in 2018 and should be recovered from the Lisfranc injury by the start of the season, and he showed encouraging on-field signs in his limited action last year. If healthy, Newton could be one of the biggest X factors heading into 2020. The 31-year-old has never been a highly accurate or efficient passer, but he boasts a strong arm and can attack all three levels of the field. And while he’s no longer the powerful, untackleable game changer as a runner that he was earlier in his career, he still brings intriguing mismatch-creating potential in the red zone. A healthy Newton can still make things very difficult for opposing defenses because of his ability to distribute the ball as a passer and pick up chunks of yards with his legs. He could be one of the biggest offseason dominoes yet to fall.
Potential landing spots: The list of teams with a clear need at the quarterback position has dwindled to a select few following free agency and the draft. The Patriots remain the most obvious contender, boasting a strong enough defense to make them competitive in the AFC East. A reunion with Ron Rivera in Washington could make a lot of sense, too, but the Redskins seem determined to see what they’ve got in last year’s first-round pick, Dwayne Haskins. Ultimately, Newton may need to wait for a job to open up (due to injury or poor play) before finding a destination.
OG Larry Warford
Why he remains unsigned: Warford is a recent addition to the free-agency list after being released by the Saints last week. The veteran offensive lineman’s performance as a pass protector dipped in 2019 and he was set to count for $12.9 million against the cap this year; With New Orleans looking to throw rookie first-rounder Cesar Ruiz into the fire from day one, Warford became expendable.
What he brings to the table: Warford’s a battle-hardened, three-time Pro Bowler who brings massive size and a mauling style to the run game. He was inconsistent in pass protection in 2019 but still graded out as Pro Football Focus’s 11th-ranked guard (among players with 20 percent of their team’s snaps), getting a nice boost thanks to his run-blocking prowess (he ranked seventh among guards). He’s still just 28 and has started 101 games in his career. He brings the potential to upgrade a team’s run game while providing experience in the passing game.
Potential landing spots: The Texans make a ton of sense for the seven-year veteran, who could slide into the right guard spot and boost what might actually be an ascending offensive line group (with Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, 2019 second-rounder Max Scharping at left guard, Nick Martin at center, and 2019 first-rounder Tytus Howard at right tackle). The Dolphins are another obvious landing spot:
Of 171 qualified NFL offensive linemen last season, Dolphins' Michael Dieter (146th), Evan Boehm (149th), Shaq Calhoun (165th), Julie'n Davenport (169th), Jesse Davis (170th) and J'Marcus Webb (171st) all finished 146th or worse in @ESPNStatsInfo Pass Block Win Rate. Wow.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) May 11, 2020
Miami drafted a pair of early-round linemen in Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt, but Warford brings instant impact to a line that will be tasked with protecting Tua Tagovailoa in 2020 (if he plays). The Bengals and Jets should both be potential suitors as well.
OT Jason Peters
Why he remains unsigned: The Eagles decided to let the 38-year-old test the free-agent waters, and Peters has chosen a patient approach with the goal of “keeping his options open.” Philly is ostensibly ready to roll into 2020 with last year’s first-rounder, Andre Dillard, at left tackle, but several reports indicate the team wants Peters back―and that Peters is holding out hope for a reunion. The longtime veteran has even turned down a handful of offers from other teams, per NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Derrick Gunn.
What he brings to the table: The 17th-year pro has still got it. Peters graded out sixth among qualifying tackles (at least 232 snaps), per Pro Football Focus, allowing just three sacks on 562 pass-blocking snaps. He’s an experienced and technically savvy blocker who’s notched nine Pro Bowls and has been named All-Pro six times (two first-team selections, four second-team). He’s apparently healthy and ready to go. The only real question teams may have is whether he can stay on the field for a full 16-game slate; Peters has missed 12 games in the past three seasons.
Potential landing spots: All signs point to the Eagles as the the most obvious landing spot; that’s where Peters wants to play, per reports, and the team remains interested. The Redskins have a need on the blindside, too, after trading Trent Williams to the 49ers.
CB Logan Ryan
Why he remains unsigned: Ryan bid farewell to the Titans last week, saying later that the team made no effort to bring him back for 2020. The veteran corner, who is looking to match or exceed his salary from 2019 ($9.5 million), has heard from a handful of teams, but noted that clubs are taking their time with the remaining free agents as they deal with COVID-19–related logistics.
What he brings to the table: Ryan is an experienced and versatile slot cornerback who can factor as a blitzer, run defender, and coverage man. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound nickelback has shown a nose for the ball in his seven-year career, and notched 18 passes defensed in 2019 (third best) to go with four interceptions, four forced fumbles, and a career-high 4.5 sacks. Ryan’s pick-six of Tom Brady sent the Titans to the AFC championship game. Teams looking to add a veteran leader with big-game experience should look to scoop Ryan up in the next few weeks.
Potential landing spots: The Jets reportedly “believe they will sign” Ryan, and that would make a ton of sense, though there’s nothing official on that front just yet. The Chiefs, who lost Kendall Fuller in free agency, need defensive backs and look like another logical destination.
DE Everson Griffen
Why he remains unsigned: Griffen voided the final three years of his contract in February and opted for free agency. Like Clowney, the 32-year-old veteran has slow-played free agency in hopes of drumming up some leverage as we get closer to the season. He’s reportedly seeking $8 million to $10 million per year, but may have to wait until Clowney signs before teams will commit to that type of deal.
What he brings to the table: Griffen can still create havoc in the pocket. His 66 pressures in 2019 were 14th among all edge players, per PFF, and he notched eight sacks, two pass breakups, and a pick. Griffen has netted eight sacks or better in five of his past six seasons―he missed that mark playing in 11 games in 2018―and his 74.5 career sacks ranks fourth in Vikings franchise history. Whether he’s a full-time starter or rotational pass rusher, Griffen can still bring heat from the edge.
Potential landing spots: The Seahawks still have a massive need for pass-rushing depth, and Griffen is reportedly open to “bringing his career full circle” and playing for Pete Carroll, his college coach. The Lions, Cowboys, and Raiders could all use some more talent in their pass-rush groups as well.
DE Michael Bennett
Why he remains unsigned: Bennett’s bounced around in the past few seasons, with stints in Philadelphia, New England, and Dallas. The veteran pass rusher hit free agency after playing nine games for the Cowboys in 2019, in which he logged four sacks in a rotational role (he added 2.5 sacks in six games for the Patriots), but has yet to generate much interest on the open market. The 34-year-old has expressed interest in finishing off his career in Seattle but there’s no indication the team is ready to bring him back.
What he brings to the table: Bennett is a versatile rusher who can line up both on the edge and at the three-technique spot. He’s never been an elite athlete, but he is incredibly savvy in his ability to time the snap and and use his hands to defeat blocks, swiping and chopping away opponents’ arms to get into the backfield. Bennett notched 42 pressures in 2019, a big drop-off from his numbers the season prior (68), but he’s still capable of providing quality snaps at multiple spots for a team lacking defensive line depth.
Potential landing spots: The Falcons’ edge-rushing unit remains paper-thin even after signing Dante Fowler in free agency, and head coach Dan Quinn is familiar with Bennett from their time together in Seattle in 2013 and 2014. Bennett is a good fit for the Chargers and Jaguars as well, with both running derivatives of the Pete Carroll scheme he thrived in earlier in his career. Same goes for the 49ers, who could use some experienced depth at their interior pass-rushing spots after dealing DeForest Buckner to the Colts.
OLB Clay Matthews
Why he remains unsigned: The Rams saved $3.75 million against the cap by releasing Matthews after one season, and the 33-year-old veteran has yet to garner serious free-agency interest in a soft market for pass rushers.
What he brings to the table: Matthews was productive for the Rams last year on a per-snap basis, ranking 24th among edge players in PFF’s pass rush productivity metric (8.4). He notched 40 pressures on 279 pass-rush snaps and grabbed eight sacks in 13 games. The six-time Pro Bowler brings schematic versatility, too, and is able to line up on the edge or in the middle depending on the situation. Matthews may no longer be an every-down impact player, but he’s still a solid option as a situational pass rusher who can either rush from the edge or blitz from multiple angles.
Potential landing spots: A return to Green Bay makes some sense for Matthews. He’d provide some depth at the team’s linebacker spot while boosting the Packers’ pass-rush unit. A switch to another NFC West team in Arizona should be an option, as the Cardinals are woefully thin behind 2019 sack leader Chandler Jones. Matthews would be a nice fit in Todd Bowles’s defense in Tampa Bay, too, and the Bucs have a clear win-now directive with 43-year-old Tom Brady under center.
DE Markus Golden
Why he remains unsigned: The Giants placed the rarely used unrestricted free agent tender on the 29-year-old pass rusher, meaning if Golden is not signed by another team prior to July 22, he’ll be in New York in 2020 playing on a one-year deal worth $4.12 million (a 10 percent raise from last year). Considering Golden was reportedly seeking $10 million per year, he may have to settle for significantly less to avoid landing back with the Giants at that suboptimal rate.
What he brings to the table: Golden’s a power rusher who plays with heavy hands and physicality. He’s the only unsigned free-agent pass rusher to accumulate double-digit sacks (10.0) in 2019, and he finished 15th among edge rushers with 64 pressures for the Giants. He’s approaching 30 and missed 17 games to injury in 2017 and 2018 combined, but Golden’s too productive to not find a home in 2020.
Potential landing spots: The Giants are a good fit and certainly need help at their edge rushing spot, but Golden’s likely to find an offer that beats New York’s UFA tender for 2020. The Rams could use a boost of proven veteran experience on the edge after letting both Matthews and Dante Fowler walk in free agency, and the pass-rush-needy Jets could be a logical destination, too.
DT Damon Harrison
Why he remains unsigned: Harrison’s typically dominant play fell off a cliff in 2019; the 31-year-old defensive tackle struggled as a run defender for the Lions last year, notching a career-low 49 tackles—including just three for a loss, his lowest total since 2014. Harrison told reporters after the season that he was contemplating retirement after fighting through several injuries in 2019, which limited his ability to “get back to the form [he’s] used to.” Teams may be turned off by the fact he forced his way out of Detroit as well.
What he brings to the table: When healthy and motivated, “Snacks” is one of the best interior run-pluggers in the game. The 350-pounder graded out as one of the league’s top run defenders every year from 2013 to 2018, per Pro Football Focus, a master of leverage who consistently showed the ability to absorb blocks, hold his ground, and keep his eyes on the ball carrier to make a play. For a squad looking to shore up a leaky run defense, Harrison could be the answer.
Potential landing spots: The Panthers spent the seventh overall pick on Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, but Carolina―who finished dead last in Football Outsiders’ run defense DVOA and gave up a league-worst 31 rushing scores in 2019―could certainly boost their depth at the nose tackle spot by signing Harrison. The Jaguars (second to last in run defense DVOA and second worst in rushing touchdowns allowed) need more beef in the middle of their defense, too.