After one week of NFL free agent gluttony by teams with deep pockets and needs to fill, you might think all the good players would have already found new homes.
You’d be wrong.
While it’s true all the gargantuan contracts are in the rear-view mirror, there are still some darn good NFL free agents waiting to be plucked off the vine.
Best is a subjective word, but for the purposes of this list it’s going to boil down to this: These are the players left on the market who can best contribute to new (or old) teams in the upcoming NFL season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback
You’re not going to build a franchise around Fitzpatrick, but he’s a terrific option for any team in need of a bridge between now and the future. At the age of 33, this Harvard grad is coming off his best career year in which he passed for 3,905 yards with 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for the New York Jets.
This phenomenal season, aided in large part by the receiving combo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, apparently gave Fitzpatrick the idea he had some leverage to land one big contract before he retires. Unfortunately for him, neither the Jets nor the Denver Broncos have the same idea about his worth, which is why he remains unsigned at this time.
Still, in a down year for quarterback talent all around, some team will have the good fortune of having this veteran behind center. It seems likely he’d end up with the Jets again, especially considering his familiarity with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s system and his relationship with Marshall (who desperately wants Fitzpatrick back).
Nick Fairley, defensive tackle
While Fairley has never quite lived up to his draft status as a No. 13 overall pick, he’s still capable of disrupting the pocket on a semi-regular basis inside a 4-3 defense.
Therefore it’s not too surprising to hear he has up to four teams vying for his services, including the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints. The Jets are somewhat of a surprise, but it’s easy to see how Fairley might be viewed as a capable 3-4 defensive end for Todd Bowles.
At the age of 28, he’s still young enough to wreak havoc in the NFL for another half-decade or longer. Last year was the first in which he wasn’t a starter, but even as a rotational guy Fairley can make a big difference for the right team.
Robert Griffin III, quarterback
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves as it pertains to Griffin III. He’s not as good as everyone thought he was when he blew up his rookie campaign. Then again, he’s not as bad as many have suggested, either, in light of his rough career since.
Griffin is pretty much still the same guy everyone who studied film thought he was when he entered the league. The raw talent he possesses is electric, but it must be honed and guided in a very specific way in order to produce the desired result.
RG3 needs to play in an offense that features the run, and him running, as a means to keep defenses honest. One team that springs to mind which has the framework and potential opening to utilize his talents is the San Francisco 49ers, led by head coach Chip Kelly and his zone-read scheme.
There are rumors floating around that the 49ers would pounce on Griffin III if Colin Kaepernick ends up leaving via trade. The only other team that has shown much interest was the New York Jets, but many believe that was a ruse to spark Ryan Fitzpatrick to action.
Reggie Nelson, safety
It is somewhat surprising to see Nelson still available at this time. Though his age could be a factor (32), Nelson is still one of the best cover safeties in the NFL. He still has enough speed to make plays on the back end, and his instincts have been honed to a deadly point the past five years or so.
Nelson intercepted eight passes last year for the Cincinnati Bengals and actually was the team’s best defensive back. He’s tallied 21 interceptions the past five years as the center fielder on one of the NFL’s top defenses. That’s why it is so shocking to see the team reportedly move on this offseason without him.
If that is the case, then Nelson should be viewed as a high-priority short-term option of any team in need of back-end help on defense. Likely, given fact that he’s still on the market, he shouldn’t be too expensive to land, either.
Anquan Boldin, wide receiver
As good as Boldin still is, that he’s still available at this time isn’t surprising at all. In fact, nobody should be shocked if he’s still searching for the right situation a month from now.
Boldin wants to play for a contender. He’s already won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, and after a couple dismal years in San Francisco he would obviously want to have a better chance to win in his final years than he’s had of late.
Even at the age of 35, and even without a lot of speed on the outside, Boldin is still one of the NFL’s top possession receivers. Playing on a bad 49ers team last year that had quarterback troubles, he still managed to haul in 69 passes for 789 yards and four touchdowns.
Given the right quarterback to play with, Boldin is still capable of cracking the 1,000-yard mark receiving, which at his age is remarkable.
Brandon Marshall, inside linebacker
Marshall isn’t an unrestricted free agent. The Denver Broncos slapped a second-round tender on this restricted free agent, meaning any team interested in signing him would have to exchange a second-round pick for his services. Also, the Broncos have the option of matching any offer.
However, that doesn’t mean he’s staying in Denver. The Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins have both reportedly shown interest in this dynamic (and young) inside linebacker.
Given the way Miami has thrown money around the past few years, it shouldn’t be assumed the Dolphins are out of this even after their recent dealings. Seattle is obviously a wild card, because nobody ever knows quite what to expect from general manager John Schneider.
Marshall would be a prize, though, for any team that values him enough to make an exchange for a second-rounder. He piled up 102 tackles last year playing next to Danny Trevathan (who left for Chicago), along with an interception and a sack.
Russell Okung, offensive tackle
Okung is representing himself this offseason after firing his agent last year. So far the experiment has yielded a bit of frustration, as teams don’t appear to value him the same way he values himself.
It’s not surprising. While undoubtedly talented, the left tackle hasn’t been able to play a full 16-game season since entering the NFL as a rookie out of Oklahoma State in 2010. Injuries have plagued Okung throughout his six-year career, and teams are loathe to overspend on a player who might not be able to perform.
Still, Okung has reportedly received offers from the Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants. Clearly, there is interest in his services. He just needs to realize the golden parachute deal he’s likely seeking isn’t available right now.
Patrick Robinson, cornerback
Though nobody would mistake Robinson for Patrick Peterson, this playmaking cornerback was actually one of the few solid performers last year for the San Diego Chargers. Pro Football Focus notes in particular his effectiveness against deep passes: “Robinson allowed more than 30 receiving yards just once all season in his first year with the Chargers.”
A 43-game starter in his last six seasons, Robinson has the experience needed to step in as a top reserve and potential starter for any team in need of secondary help. He has 10 interceptions (including a 99-yard pick-six) to his credit, along with a sack and forced fumble in his career.
In a year devoid of a lot of top cornerback talent on the open market, he’s a guy who should generate some interest as teams continue to work their rosters the next month leading up to the draft.
Arian Foster, running back
Injuries have kept Foster from becoming one of the top players of his generation. When healthy, there aren’t many running backs in the NFL who can compare to what he brings to the table. Whether it’s running, catching or blocking, Foster brings top-level skill to whatever he’s doing on the field.
In his seven-year career, Foster has averaged 115 all-purpose yards per game and a touchdown per start. Those numbers are ridiculous, and he’s still capable of producing at that high level if his health holds up.
Obviously this has been an issue Foster hasn’t been able to overcome the past few years in Houston. He has missed 23 games the past three years as the Texans continued to use him like a featured back, despite his obviously deteriorating health.
That said, a team with a solid contingency of runners would be doing itself a service to bring Foster in as a part-time back. If he can stay fresh throughout the season, then he immediately becomes one of the more dangerous weapons in the playoffs, when running the ball is key.
Leon Hall, cornerback
There is no arguing the fact that the NFL is a passing league these days. With that in mind, it’s no longer good enough to feature two strong cornerbacks. Teams need three or more to compete with the potent aerial attacks bombarding secondaries now.
Hall isn’t a tremendous outside corner any more. While not a small guy (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), he is better suited to play in the slot. Not the fastest guy on the field, he still does possess the quickness and change-of-direction abilities needed to cover shifty slot receivers.
In his nine seasons with the Bengals, Hall racked up 26 interceptions, including two this past year. He’s already visited with the Arizona Cardinals, who just added pass rusher extraordinaire Chandler Jones in a blockbuster trade, and is now visiting with the Dallas Cowboys, who desperately need help at cornerback.