We already know about some of the big-name players who are set to cash in big time once free agency starts around the NFL in March. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell comes to mind first.
However, there’s another group of lesser-known free agents who are going to cash in. Some are not even on the radar of the common NFL fan.
From a former Cowboys first-round pick that has turned his career around in New Jersey to a tight end in Oakland coming off a Pro Bowl season, here are the top-10 under the radar NFL free agents for this offseason.
Tyrod Taylor, quarterback, Cleveland Browns
Given how lackluster the quarterback market is going to be in free agency, a team could go out there and add this former Pro Bowler for pennies on the dollar. While Taylor might leave a lot to be desired from a passing and accuracy standpoint, he’s had proven success in the past. Other potential free agent quarterbacks can’t say the same thing. In fact, Taylor has accounted for 68 total touchdowns and just 18 interceptions since the start of the 2015 season. He’s the definition of an under-the-radar free agent option.
Morris Claiborne, cornerback, New York Jets
It was many moons ago that Claiborne found himself on the brink of being considered a bust. A top-six pick of the Cowboys back in 2012, the former LSU standout started just 43 games in his five seasons with the team. This span saw Claiborne plagued by injury after injury. But since joining the Jets back in 2017, the now 29-year-old corner has morphed into a starter-quality player. He’s recorded 22 passes defended and three interceptions over the past two seasons. Claiborne has also yielded a sub 60 percent completion mark over this span.
Tyrell Williams, wide receiver, Los Angeles Chargers
Williams’ size is going to be very attractive to potential suitors in free agency. He stands at 6-foot-4 and has an absolutely huge catch radius. This was made clear during a 2016 season that saw Williams put up north of 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Now, set to hit free agency at the still young age of 27, Williams believes he is a true No. 1 receiver. While the market won’t play out that way, we fully expect him to get a four or five-year deal from a receiver-needy team. At the very least, Williams is as good as gold in the red zone. That’s no small thing in today’s NFL.
Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Denver Broncos
Previously stuck behind Shane Ray and Von Miller in Denver, Barrett took a back seat to stud rookie Bradley Chubb this past season. Despite that, the former undrafted rookie from Colorado State has continued to prove himself worthy of a starting role somewhere. The 26-year-old Barrett has recorded 35 quarterback hits and 14 sacks over the past four seasons. He has the ability to play hands down at the line and in a basic 3-4 outside linebacker setting. Heck, Barrett could fill the SAM linebacker role for teams running that defense. He’ll be a starter next season.
Daryl Williams, offensive tackle, Carolina Panthers
This stud left tackle was set to earn a huge payday during free agency prior to missing all but one game in 2018 due to a knee injury. Williams, 26, solidified pass protection in front of Cam Newton back in 2017 — earning Second-Team All-Pro honors in the process. With Williams sidelined last season, Carolina’s pass protection once again became a major issue. Sure teams are going to push back against giving the tackle a huge payday this March. In no way does that mean Williams can’t return healthy and prove himself to be a top-10 left tackle once again.
Bryce Callahan, cornerback, Chicago Bears
Prior to going down with a season-ending broken foot in December, the smallish 5-foot-9 Callahan had proven himself to be among the best slot cornerbacks in the game. He recorded 45 tackles, six passes defended and two interceptions in 13 games. He yielded a sub 79 passer rating and 54.5 completion percentage from the nickel position. Now set to hit free agency, Callahan’s market will be limited by the above-mentioned injury and the fact he’s limited to a slot role. Even then, he’s going to be a tremendous get in free agency. That’s for sure.
Quinton Spain, guard, Tennessee Titans
An ability to pass protect from the interior of the offensive line has taken on more importance recently. Most quarterbacks tend to struggle more with pressure up the middle rather than out on the edge. That’s where someone of Spain’s caliber will be a highly sought after free agent. The 27-year-old Spain has started 42 games over the past three seasons — giving the Titans reliability at guard. He’s not scheme specific and should net a lucrative payday in free agency. Any team adding Spain to the mix would be finding a major upgrade.
Preston Smith, EDGE, Washington Redskins
Smith, 26, might not have put up tremendous sack numbers (24.5) in his first four NFL seasons. In no way does that mean the former Mississippi State standout hasn’t been a consistent pass-rush force. This very same span has seen Smith rack up an astounding 59 quarterback hits. As we’ve seen with other outside linebackers out in the edge, these hits will ultimately turn into an uptick in sacks. Still not even in his prime, Smith would be a tremendous get for teams running a 3-4 defense. Look for a surprisingly lucrative contract for Smith come March.
Jared Cook, tight end, Oakland Raiders
Seen as somewhat of an enigma with the Tennessee Titans and then-St. Louis Rams earlier in his career, Cook took off big time in Oakland this past season. Considered a freak of nature when he entered the NFL back in 2009, Cook put up 68 receptions for nearly 900 yards en route to earning his first ever Pro Bowl appearance this past season. Whether it’s Oakland ponying up the big bucks to retain Cook or another team stepping up in March, Cook will be paid like a top-five tight end. And based on what we saw last season, he’ll perform like it, too.
Allen Bailey, defensive tackle, Kansas City Chiefs
Bailey has flown under the radar in Kansas City over the past eight seasons. Brand names such as Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Eric Berry received most of the headlines. That’s fine. Performing in the trenches is not always going to give you a ton of fanfare. Even then, Bailey’s performance from a pass-rush perspective has been stellar. He recorded a career high 10 quarterback hits and six sacks last season. Even at 29 years old, we’re expecting this former Miami(F) standout to draw a ton of interest once the calendar turns to March.